ACLU Sues Newark For Free Speech Violations

February 19, 2008
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Photo by Jon Levine

Newark - Today the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed suit against the City of Newark for ongoing free speech violations relating to a requirement that people must buy liability insurance in order to hold free speech protests in Newark.

"We just want people to have the right to protest in Newark without facing unconstitutional barriers," says Bennet Zurofsky of Reitman Parsonnet, serving as cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. "We're tired of going round and round on this; the city needs to take free speech rights seriously, fix their forms and train their staff."

The ACLU-NJ first brought the issue to court in 2004 when the City required the Peoples Organization for Progress (POP) and New Jersey Peace Action to obtain $1,000,000 in liability insurance in order to receive a permit to hold a demonstration. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, ruled in the ACLU-NJ's favor, with Newark signing a December 2004 Consent Order stating it would not enforce any insurance requirements.

Since then, Newark has continued to include an insurance requirement on its permit application form and failed to train personnel that insurance requirements don't apply to permits for free speech activities.

After three years of trying to persuade Newark to change its forms and train its personnel, and after having to intercede on numerous occasions to obtain approval for applicants who did not have insurance (and whose permit applications were delayed or denied because of lack of insurance), the ACLU-NJ has no option but to file in court to enforce the Consent Order.

"It's frustrating to see free speech rights disregarded by the city," says ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Instead of wasting time and money to keep an unconstitutional policy in place Newark should encourage free speech activities in the city."

Insurance requirements are a standard, albeit patently unconstitutional, government tactic for squelching unwelcome speech. Newark is one of many cities forced to abandon the requirement.

The case is captioned POP v. City of Newark.

This is the third First Amendment action the ACLU-NJ has taken against the City in the past month. On January 23, 2008 the ACLU-NJ filed suit against Newark for violating the free speech and press rights of Brazilian Voice editor Roberto Lima (Lima v. Newark Police Department). On January 30, 2008 the ACLU-NJ moved to join a federal lawsuit filed against the City of Newark for disciplining a police officer who anonymously posted a message on a website that was critical of the Newark Police Department (Wohltman v. The City of Newark).

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Category: Free Speech

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