Zoning Speech: Freedom of Assembly under Fire. (Citings)

Article excerpt

ON NOVEMBER 1, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the City of Tampa and its chief of police on behalf of three peaceful protestors who had been forcibly removed from a presidential rally. Janis Lentz, Mauricio Rosas, and Sonja Haught had committed the crime of holding signs with unwelcome messages: "Investigate Florida Votergate," "June Is Gay Pride Month," and "Boo!"

The June rally, attended by President Bush, took place at Legends Field, a private (though tax-funded) stadium. Under other circumstances one might argue that its owners have a right to exclude whomever they please. But as a St. Petersburg Times editorial noted, the "private" rally "had a distinctly public character." It was run in part by public employees and organized in part by White House staff; a White House spokesperson called it "a governmental, presidential event."

The three expelled sign holders were not the only people in Tampa who wanted to protest the president's visit. About were sent to a specially designated First Amendment Zone created by local statute, half a mile from the event. There they chanted, waved signs, and otherwise expressed their political views to any ralliers who happened to be dreadfully lost.

Such free speech zones are most common on college campuses, which first experimented with the idea in the 1960s. …