Monday, October 12, 2009

Ficker, ACLU Challenge Restrictions on Free Speech in Parks

County Council candidate and anti-tax activist Robin Ficker was threatened with arrest by Park Police for campaigning in a Montgomery County park on July 4. The Maryland ACLU has risen to his defense, and the defense of all political candidates, in an effort to protect free speech in public places.

According to the ACLU, Ficker, who was accompanied by a volunteer carrying a campaign sign, spoke to voters in the Germantown Regional Park on July 4. Ficker was told to cease his activity by Park Police, who cited an M-NCPPC rule that forbids carrying signs without a permit. M-NCPPC has another rule that requires a permit for "solicitation of contributions, signatures or moneys." The ACLU contends that the rules are unconstitutional because they broadly prohibit protected speech, lack any standards for permit issuance and grant park officials "unbridled discretion" to deny a permit. The ACLU has written to M-NCPPC asking them to stop enforcing the rules.

Like many of you, your author has repeatedly witnessed political campaigning in parks, including distribution of literature, buttons and stickers. The imposition of rules forbidding one type of speech while many other kinds have proceeded in unabated fashion for years strikes us as inexplicable and unfair. Parks are indisputably part of the public square. Robin Ficker, and any other people seeking to practice political speech, should not be denied their constitutional rights on public property.

Following is the press release from the ACLU and their letter to M-NCPPC.