ACLU of New Jersey Charges Newark Policies Infringe on Free Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
September 1, 2004 12:00 am

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NEWARK–The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a lawsuit today challenging two Newark policies that infringe on free speech by restricting people’s right to distribute leaflets on public sidewalks and requiring march and rally organizers to purchase expensive insurance policies.

The ACLU of New Jersey, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself as well as People’s Organization for Progress and New Jersey Peace Action, charge that the policies violate the U.S. and state constitutions.

“The city of Newark has placed these organizations, as well as many of its citizens, in a position of either being subject to excessive restrictions and costs they can’t afford, risking arrest, or remaining silent,” said Bennet Zurofsky, a volunteer attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey. “Free speech should be free, and should not be only for those wealthy enough to afford it.”

According to Newark’s handbill ordinance, individuals that hand out notices or leaflets on public sidewalks or streets without a permit can be arrested. In order to obtain a permit, an applicant must satisfy the police chief that they are of “”good moral character,”” be fingerprinted and submit two recent photographs. Although the ordinance was enacted nearly 40 years ago, the Newark City Council recently directed police officers to actively enforce the permit requirements.

Also challenged in the lawsuit is a city policy that requires individuals and grassroots organizations to purchase a $1,000,000 insurance policy before holding marches, protests or vigils. Until recently, Newark had exempted free speech activities from the insurance requirement.

Individuals and organizations that cannot afford the cost of insurance will be precluded from exercising their free speech rights, said the ACLU of New Jersey.

The lawsuit is People’s Organization for Progress, et al. v. City of Newark, et al. and was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Zurofsky is a partner in the law firm of Reitmann and Parsonnet in Newark.

For more information on the ACLU’s work to protect protest and free speech rights, go to /FreeSpeech/FreeSpeechlist.cfm?c=86

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