ACLU Scores Free Speech Victory for Columbia Residents

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
March 22, 2007 12:00 am

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Appeals Court Affirms Right to Free Expression at Air Show

ST. LOUIS – The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed a lower court’s ruling prohibiting the city of Columbia and the nonprofit corporation, Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans, from restricting free expression at Columbia’s annual air show.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri brought the case on behalf of Columbia residents who wished to carry signs and distribute leaflets at the air show. Last February, U.S. District Court Judge Nanette K. Laughery issued a permanent injunction against the city and Salute to Veterans requiring them to permit signs and leafleting.

“Government restriction of free speech is always dangerous. We are gratified that the court agreed that the city cannot declare its air show a no-free-speech zone,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

The Eighth Circuit agreed with the ACLU that Salute to Veterans acted as an agent of the government when it prohibited certain types of speech at the air show. “Since Salute and the city were knowingly and pervasively entangled in the enforcement of the challenged speech restrictions, we conclude that Salute was a state actor when it interfered with appellees’ expressive activities,” wrote Judge Diana E. Murphy on behalf of a unanimous court. Judges Morris S. Arnold and Duane Benton joined Judge Murphy’s decision.

The case sets an important precedent. “The court recognized that it was really the city restricting speech. The government cannot be relieved of its obligations under the First Amendment simply by purporting to turn authority over to a nonprofit organization,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

Bill Wickersham and Maureen Doyle were represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Marilyn S. Teitelbaum and Stacey A. Aschemann, both of the firm Schuchat, Cook & Werner in St. Louis.

The court’s decision is available online at:

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