ACLU Says It Will Go to Bat for Protesters at Orioles Game with Cuban Team

May 3, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, May 3, 1999

BALTIMORE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today sought to clarify the First Amendment rights of protesters at tonight’s exhibition baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban National Team.

The event has prompted a swirl of questions about the First Amendment rights of pro-Castro and anti-Castro factions who want to use the game as an occasion for expressing their political views.

The United States maintains an economic embargo imposed against Cuba in 1962 following the 1959 revolution that brought President Fidel Castro to power.

The Maryland ACLU said it has been responding to a sizable number of calls about the controversy and that after the game it is offering help to anyone who thinks their rights were violated and asking people to supply the ACLU with the names of witnesses to any disagreements with the police.

“Baseball and protest are as American as apple pie,” said Dwight Sullivan, Managing Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “We have spoken with the Baltimore Police Department officials who will be chiefly responsible for patrolling the streets and sidewalks in the vicinity of the stadium, and we think they intend to allow protesters their rights of free speech and expression.”

“Nevertheless,” he added, “anyone whose rights are violated by officers on the street should call us and we will investigate.”

How free speech rights may be exercised depends on the location of the protesters, Sullivan explained. Free speech rights are clearly guaranteed by the Constitution on city streets and on the property owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority outside the stadium’s gates.

The expressive activities may not block pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and the police may direct protesters with contrary views to different places to preserve the peace (though police may not discriminate in favor of the views of any particular group in the process.)

The right to free speech activity, including holding up signs, is less clear once citizens are inside the stadium, Sullivan said. Even though the stadium is government-owned property, once it is leased by the Orioles, they may have control over how attendees conduct themselves, including whether they display banners.

But liberally allowing banners and chanting, if they are consistent with the needs of the game and the need to keep the peace, would be in baseball’s best tradition, and the ACLU wholeheartedly urges permitting them.

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