NASHVILLE – A federal judge this afternoon ordered the State of Tennessee to stop enforcing rules that violate the free speech rights of the Occupy Nashville protesters in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) this morning.
“The state cannot arbitrarily create restrictive policies just because it does not like how people are using a public space,” said ACLU-TN Legal Director Tricia Herzfeld. “Today’s decision is the first step in restoring demonstrators’ free speech rights.”
The lawsuit alleges that the State illegally revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza, arresting protesters without probable cause and due process over the last several nights as a means to chill their free speech. The new rules were adopted improperly, by fiat in secret and without notice.
They are overly broad and vague and essentially pose a financial restriction on free speech, in violation of demonstrators’ First Amendment rights. They were also being applied unequally, as patrons of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center were still permitted to be in Legislative Plaza after 10 p.m.
The temporary restraining order halts enforcement of the rules until a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for November 21. At a hearing for the motion for temporary restraining order, the State did not oppose Occupy Nashville’s motion.
“We hope the fact that the State did not contest the temporary restraining order means that it is recommitting itself to safeguarding—not thwarting—public political expression,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director.
The Occupy Nashville protesters have been gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to express their frustration with the government since October 9, 2011. Between October 9 and October 27, 2011, the protesters spoke out, held up signs and generally communicated their frustration in a non-violent manner. Historically, other groups have been permitted to gather at the plaza without a permit.
On October 27, the State issued the new rules that dramatically restricted demonstrators’ ability to protest during business hours, eliminating their right to gather after 4:00 p.m. and implementing a 10:00 pm curfew on the Plaza. They also required protesters to pay use and security fees and to obtain $1,000,000 in liability insurance coverage prior to engaging in any assembly activity.
The lawsuit, Occupy Nashville et. al., v. Haslam et. al., was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.
In addition to Herzfeld, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney David Briley of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC and ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Patrick Frogge of Bell Tennent & Frogge PLLC.