The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Justice (CFJ) have reached an agreement with the Spokane Transit Authority to protect freedom of speech at the Plaza in downtown Spokane. The agreement settles a lawsuit challenging restrictions on free speech at Plaza sidewalks that the groups filed on behalf of Donald Ausderau, a Christian minister, and the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane in June 2003.
“Public sidewalks have traditionally served as public forums for free speech. People who wish to exercise their rights will now be able to do so without having to get the government’s permission beforehand,” said ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan.
“The Plaza sidewalks are a central gathering point for the Spokane community. We are pleased that the Spokane Transit Authority has revised its policies to ensure an open forum for dialogue by citizens and community groups. We appreciate the Authority’s willingness to reach a constructive agreement that recognizes the importance of free speech while honoring the Authority’s mission to serve public transportation needs,” said CFJ attorney David Blair-Loy.
The settlement allows speakers, leafleters, musicians, and other people who ordinarily use city sidewalks without a permit to use Plaza sidewalks without a permit, too. Their activities will not be limited to any particular time period. Previously, the Transit Authority required anyone who wanted to engage in a “public communication activity” on the sidewalk outside the Plaza building to get a permit in advance, and the permit was good for a maximum of five hours a week. The settlement narrows the policy’s application to persons or groups who set up a table, chairs, or similar apparatus. Under the settlement, the Authority may require speakers to stay 10 feet away from bus exits and from passengers standing in line for a bus or waiting on a bench, unless the speaker is invited to come closer.
Donald Ausderau is a Spokane resident and minister who wishes to speak to the public about religious and social issues on the public sidewalk outside the Plaza. The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane is a nonprofit membership organization devoted to involving individuals and local communities in building the foundations for a just and nonviolent world. The group seeks to hand out leaflets and gather signatures about political and social issues on the sidewalk outside the Plaza.