A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction against the city of Desloge, Missouri barring enforcement of an anti-solicitation ordinance that I think could easily be justified as a legitimate time, space and manner restriction. The law says:
No peddler nor any other person, association, corporation or other entity shall be authorized to conduct any solicitation activities, or to occupy, use or operate in or upon any public highway, thoroughfare or street within the City of Desloge.
Violating the ordinance brings a potential penalty of 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. The city agreed that this ordinance prohibited “distributing handbills and leaflets,” something that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, but the scope of the ordinance is quite limited. From the ruling:
Plaintiffs planned to distribute handbills in the City on October 27, 2012, and on unspecified dates thereafter. In preparation for this solicitation activity, Ancona contacted the City and asked if he could approach individuals within stopped vehicles at the intersection of Desloge Drive and Oak Street in the City and distribute leaflets to them. Desloge Police Corporal Sean Roney advised Ancona that he could stand on the sidewalks or other areas not within the intersection to hand out his leaflets, could hand out the leaflets upon the City’s sidewalks and could also display signs on the sidewalk, but for safety and traffic purposes, could not stand within the intersection. Further, Corporal Roney advised Ancona that Plaintiffs could approach drivers and/or pedestrians in other public, private, or semiprivate areas, including public parking lots near the intersection, and that Plaintiffs also could go from door to door to distribute leaflets on private property.
I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, but this strikes me as an entirely reasonable restriction that is, contrary to the judge’s ruling, narrowly tailored to achieve a legitimate government interest. The plaintiffs, who happen to be the KKK in this case but that is legally irrelevant, have all of the traditional public forums available to them to hand out leaflets and express their viewpoint. The only thing they can’t do is actually walk out into the street and hand them out to drivers at intersections. This seems entirely reasonable to me. The case was brought by the ACLU, which has done so much incredible work in defense of free speech rights, but I think they’re off base here. You can read the full ruling here.