NYCLU Joins with Albany Lawmakers in Support of Legislation That Supports Free Speech at Shopping Malls

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 31, 2003 12:00 am

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ALBANY-The New York Civil Liberties Union today joined with members of the Assembly of the state legislature to announce the introduction of legislation that would require shopping malls to permit free speech and “expressive activity,” which includes the right of an individual to wear clothing, buttons and arm bands that convey a political or ideological point of view.

“When malls replace Main Street as a center of commercial and social activity the censorship of expression has a devastating effect on the freedom of expression and the diversity that is at the heart of a free society,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

The legislation was inspired by a widely reported incident earlier this month in which the Crossgates Mall in Albany violated the free speech rights of 61-year-old Stephen Downs when it had him arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the phrase, “Give Peace A Chance.”

Assemblymen Steven Englebright of Suffolk County and John McEneny of Albany County sponsored the legislation introduced today.

Following Downs’ arrest, the NYCLU wrote to the Pyramid Management Group, which operates the mall, seeking an explanation of the incident and urging the mall to adopt a policy that respects diversity and free speech.

Given the prominent role of malls in our society, policies of this kind could prove extremely harmful to the rights of all Americans, the NYCLU said. “As a matter of both public policy and common sense,” the NYCLU letter notes, “individuals must be permitted to wear clothing that expresses their aesthetic sensibilities as well as their artistic or athletic affinities and even their ideological views.”

The Pyramid Management Group, in a reply letter, defended the mall’s actions. Referring to the code of conduct that governs its properties, the organization’s letter stated, “We reserve the right to limit non-commercial expressive activity on the property including…free speech activities.”

In response to the failure of Crossgates Mall to respect the free speech rights of its patrons, the NYCLU has placed an advertisement on a nearby billboard stating, “Welcome to the mall. You have the right to remain silent. Value free speech.” The billboard may be viewed online at /node/22171

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