ACLU of New Jersey Defends Free Speech for Flemington Peace Protestor

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
December 15, 2005 12:00 am

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FLEMINGTON, NJ — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today announced that it is seeking the dismissal of a citation to Flemington resident Bob Flisser for being part of a public vigil for fallen soldiers without obtaining a permit. In an appearance before a municipal court, the ACLU said the Flemington “parade” ordinance violates numerous free speech protections.

“Flemington’s ordinance is written so broadly that Christmas carolers, trick-or-treaters, people tossing a Frisbee in the park, or even two kids skateboarding together would have to obtain permission from the government to do so,” said Fernando M. Pinguelo of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. in Bridgewater, who, along with Richard A. Norris and Jignesh J. Shah, are the ACLU of New Jersey cooperating attorneys representing Flisser.

When Flisser received word that peace groups around the country were holding vigils on August 17th for fallen soldiers, he went to the police station to inform them that he would be holding a vigil. The vigil was to be held at the sidewalk plaza on Main Street in Flemington, a location where such free speech activities have traditionally taken place in town. He anticipated that less than two dozen people would show up and that the chosen space was large enough to accommodate his group without blocking any right of way for
pedestrians, which it was. The police refused to even consider his application on short notice (as they are authorized to do), let alone decide whether to grant him a permit. Nevertheless, the vigil took place as planned, about 40 people showed up, and Flisser was arrested and charged with violating the parade ordinance.

“We shouldn’t need the government’s permission every time we want to express ourselves in public,” said Flisser, “especially when our activities don’t block traffic or cause any other disruptions.” He added: “It’s sad that when we expressed gratitude to soldiers who gave their lives to protect our freedom, the Borough of Flemington improperly took some of those freedoms away.”

The so-called parade ordinance threatens free speech because it covers much more activity than is constitutionally permissible and makes no accommodation for spontaneous speech, the ACLU said. It covers “any parade, march, ceremony, show, exhibition, pageant or procession of any kind, or any similar display in or upon any street, park or other public place.” To be eligible for a permit, an application must be submitted at least six days before an event. The Chief of Police can waive the requirement apparently based on his unfettered discretion as the ordinance provides no guidelines for deciding whether to grant or not grant the exemption.

The case is captioned Borough of Flemington v. Robert Flisser. The hearing date for the motion to dismiss is to be set by the judge sometime in early 2006.

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