Controversy Over Women at Augusta Golf Course Leads to ACLU Federal Lawsuit on Protest Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
March 12, 2003 12:00 am

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ATLANTA — With the backdrop of the ongoing controversy over admitting women into Augusta National Golf Course, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the two civil rights organizations who are seeking to protest outside the golf course during the upcoming Masters Golf Tournament.

“Public demonstrations are quintessential First Amendment activities and as such, are entitled to the strictest constitutional protections,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “The newly adopted public demonstration and protest ordinance, however, denies protesters their right to expression.”

Filed on behalf of Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition — both of which are seeking to demonstrate outside the golf course during Masters Tournament — the lawsuit challenges Augusta-Richmond County’s public demonstration and protest ordinance as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The county adopted the new regulations on February 18, in what the ACLU lawsuit says was an apparent effort to “strengthen the existing ordinance against the constitutional challenges that were expected in light of the Augusta National controversy.”

“Indeed, the previous version of the ordinance did suffer serious constitutional problems,” the lawsuit says. “But, the new ordinance continues to suffer many of the same constitutional defects.”

The ACLU challenged the ordinance on three grounds:

  • It requires permits only for “gatherings with the purpose of expressing of support or protest,” but not other gatherings. Thus, the government has chosen to treat the speech of some groups differently than the speech of other groups.
  • The ordinance gives unbridled discretion to the county sheriff to grant, deny, move, or revoke a permit “for any reason,” which invites censorship.
  • It improperly burdens the protesters with indemnifying the County against all losses even if the losses were not the fault of the protesters.

“We want to ensure that fan and foe alike can peaceably communicate their views to Augusta National,” said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, “and that the citizens of Augusta are free to demonstrate long after the golfers go home.”

The ACLU of Georgia is working with volunteer attorneys Jeff Bramlett, Jill Pryor, and Sarah Shalf of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore and Augusta attorney Jack Batson.

For a copy of the brief and the complaint in t his lawsuit see:

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