Not only wrong, but completely backwards. Here’s the situation. Polk County, Florida, has announced that it is doing away with what it called the “free speech zone” on the grounds of the county administration building. This was an area that they designated as a public forum where community groups could put up nativity displays at Christmas time and other such public scenes, at their own expense. StopTheACLU is blaming the ACLU for this because they had sued Polk County over it. But as usual, they have their facts completely wrong.
There is a history behind this. Two years ago, the ACLU filed suit against the county because they allowed only Christian groups to put up such displays, which obviously runs into serious establishment clause problems. In the middle of that controversy, a local Baptist church went and put up a nativity scene on the property without permission and several other groups went ahead and put up their own displays too. Polk County then did the right thing in response and recognized that if you’re going to allow public property to be used as a public forum for such displays, you can’t only allow “approved” groups to use it, it has to be open to all.
So they decided to make the property a “free speech zone”, a public forum (this is an important term in first amendment law) where community groups could erect displays of all types. Christian groups could erect nativity scenes, synagogues could erect Hannukah displays, mosques could erect Ramadan displays, and so forth. The problem is that they then set an onerous requirement that you couldn’t get a permit to put up any such display unless you had a $500,000 liability insurance policy, something that is prohibitively expensive and would have prevented most churches and other groups from being able to use the “free speech zone”.
They argued that this placed an undue burden on the right to self-expression in a designated public forum. It would be like saying that anyone can give a speech in a public park, but only if they have a net worth of more than a million dollars, clearly a constitutionally dubious policy. Polk County quickly came to their senses again and settled that case, agreeing to suspend the policy and allowing, once again, all community organizations to have access to this public forum. Now they’ve decided to do away with the public forum completely and allow no one access (which they legally can do as well – the legal principle is that if you have such a forum you can’t discriminate in deciding who can use it, but you don’t have to allow such a forum at all).
As usual, the anti-ACLU crowd has it completely wrong. Rhymes With Right says:
I guess the ACLU only supports freedom of for the speech they like.
Commies, Nazis, and Klansmen – shout it out loud.
Christians – Shut the f*&% up!
The ACLU’s suit was filed not to do away with the free speech zone but to insure that churches and other groups had practical access to use it. It does no good to open public property up for such displays and then set the requirements so high that no one could meet them. They wanted Christians to have access to put up nativity displays here, along with other religious groups as well of course, without having to meet such onerous restrictions that prevented them from doing so. They were defending the rights of Christians here, for crying out loud, they just weren’t defending only the rights of Christians – and I suspect that’s why these folks really have a problem with it.