111 BROADWAY, ELEVENTH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10006-1901
LEONARD B. BOUDIN (1912-1989) TELEPHONE (212) 254-1111 COUNSEL MICHAEL KRINSKY FACSIMILE (212) 674-4614 VICTOR RABINOWITZ ERIC M. LIEBERMAN LEONARD I. WEINGLASS DAVID B. GOLDSTEIN DEBRA EVENSON CHRISTOPHER J. KLATELL TERRY GROSS CRAIG KAPLAN
September 25, 2006
Police Chief Shaloa Edwards
Sallisaw Police Department
101 West Chickasaw
Re: Distribution of religious literature by representatives of Alamo Christian Ministries
Dear Police Chief Edwards:
On September 10, 2006, several representatives of Alamo Christian Ministries were distributing religious literature on public property in Sallisaw by placing handbills under the windshields of parked vehicles. A police officer approached them and told them that such distribution was forbidden by city ordinance, and that he would issue a citation to them if he received any complaints that they were continuing to do so. The police officer was very polite and professional, and provided to them a copy of the applicable ordinance, Section 66-31.
While the ordinance apparently seeks to prohibit distribution of printed materials by placing them on automobiles, as applied to non-commercial communications, particularly of a religious nature, it is unconstitutional. The placing of religious handbills on vehicles is constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment. In Krantz v. City of Fort Smith, 160 F.3d 1214 (8th Cir. 1999), a case involving distribution of the same kind of materials by members of Alamo Christian Ministries, the Eighth Circuit considered municipal ordinances which made it a misdemeanor for any person to place a handbill or advertisement on another person’s vehicle unless an occupant of the vehicle was willing to accept the handbill or advertisement. See Krantz, 160 F.3d at 1216. The Eighth Circuit declared these ordinances unconstitutional on their face as a violation of the First Amendment, and directed the district court to enter an injunction against enforcement of the ordinances, as well as damages and attorneys fees. Every other court of which we are aware has declared similar restrictions on hand-billing unconstitutional, including a case from the California federal district court in which the court declared unconstitutional a public college’s policy prohibiting the placing of handbills on parked vehicles in college parking lots. See Khademi v. South Orange County Community College Dist., 194 F.Supp.2d 1011, 1034 (C.D. Cal. 2002); see also Deida v. City of Milwaukee, 176 F.Supp.2d 859, 870 (E.D.Wis. 2001); Akron v. Molyneaux, 760 N.E.2d 461, 467, 144 Ohio App.3d 421, 429 (Ohio App. 9 Dist. 2001). We note that, in these cases, the courts have repeatedly rejected the elimination of littering as a justification for the prohibitions. See, e.g., Krantz, 160 F.3d at 1216; Khademi, 194 F.Supp.2d at 1034.
Thus any attempt to prohibit or arrest individuals placing religious literature on windshields would constitute an actionable violation of those individuals First Amendment rights, and would subject the City and the responsible officers to liability for injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys fees. I would be happy to discuss this matter with you or with any other appropriate city official.
Eric M. Lieberman
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