Citizens wanting to hold events downtown are expected to ask MLB for permission during a two week period
May 9, 2014
Organizers of a street festival in Minneapolis are suing the city for granting Major League Baseball the power to suppress signs and events in every section of downtown for two weeks – all for just one baseball game.
In their lawsuit, James McGuire and Robert Kolstad are challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance which states that in preparation of the MLB All-Star game at Target Field on July 15, “temporary sales, vending, entertainment, signs and related special event permits will not be approved or issued by the City of Minneapolis without the additional approval of Major League Baseball” between July 5 and July 20 for the entirety of downtown and its environs.
“It is an insult to me, and to all Americans, that before exercising my First Amendment right to speak and assemble I must first get permission from a private company,” local event organizer Jim McGuire said in a statement.
The Minneapolis chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of McGuire and Kolstad, wants the ordinance struck down.
“All we’re saying is you can’t give away your permit process to a for-profit company,” ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson told Citypages. “It belongs in the hands of elected officials and they can’t give it away.”
“This is a quintessential government role and the First Amendment doesn’t give private companies the power to decide who can assemble, where they can assemble and what they can say.”
And the ordinance is also unprecedented in both its length and the area it includes, especially for just one baseball game.
“…This is even more aggressive than the ‘Clean Zone’ around the GOP convention [in St. Paul in 2008],” Samuelson added. “One, the area is way broader, and two, the list of things the MLB is concerned about — banners and things like that — is much broader.”
He added that the lawsuit is not just about the two plaintiffs.
“It’s about anybody who might want to [assemble downtown] and we don’t know who they are,” Samuelson said. “This is serious as a heart attack, and I believe [city officials] know in their heart of hearts that it’s unconstitutional, and they don’t care.”
“We want them to never do it again.”
Similarly, back in 2013, Austin police wrote warning citations to the Infowars Magazine street team for handing out flyers, bumper stickers and magazines in downtown Austin during the South by Southwest music festival, which is likewise organized by a private company.
Austin Code Enforcement also told members of the team that they would not be allowed to use city metered parking because their vehicles displayed Infowars bumper stickers.
The authorities soon backed off after intense protests by Infowars and other free speech supporters.