Court stops Colorado Springs "no-solicitation zone" because of free speech concerns
Colorado Springs is trying to clean up its downtown by banning panhandling and soliciting, but there's one problem with that plan: The ordinance would violate the First Amendment -- at least according to the American Civil Liberties Union. And in the first major ruling on that issue, a federal district court seems to agree. Yesterday, it ordered the city not to move forward with enforcement, which was supposed to begin today.
Last month, the Latest Word reported that the ACLU of Colorado was bringing a lawsuit against the City of Colorado Springs for passing an ordinance that would ban solicitation. The ACLU, which filed the suit the same day that the city council gave the green light to the proposal, argues that the law is written in such a broad way that it would prohibit a wide range of constitutionally protected speech.
That includes nonprofit groups requesting donations, the Salvation Army ringing bells to seek contributions, street musicians playing with a hat sitting next to them for donations and a homeless person with a sign asking for charity. These concerns are represented by the ACLU's clients in this case -- four individuals and four organizations that cover a wide range of free-speech activities that would be banned under the law, the ACLU has said in its filings.
Meanwhile, city officials in Colorado Springs argue that there is a precedent for this kind of "no-solicitation" policy in municipalities across the country. They also point out that it would only apply to a twelve-block area in downtown that they say has become overrun with disruptive and aggressive behaviors.
Chris Melcher, City Attorney for Colorado Springs told us last month that he has done an exhaustive review and believes the ordinance does not violate the Constitution.
In the first ruling yesterday, however, Federal District Court Judge Marsha Krieger issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Colorado Springs from going forward with enforcement. That decision was delivered in an oral ruling, and the transcript is not yet available.
"We are glad that the judge agreed with us," says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado ACLU, "that this ordinance unjustifiably suppresses the constitutionally protected speech of street musicians, nonprofit organizations and homeless people who might sit quietly with a sign asking for assistance."
He adds, "This...no-solicitation zone would unjustifiably prevent...[people] from exercising their First Amendment rights to communicate with the public."
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