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The ACLU, et al v. the City of Newark


For the second time in four years, the American Civil Liberties Union is taking the City of Newark, NJ, to court over anti-free speech practices in the state's largest city.  The court action was filed on September 1st by the New Jersey division of the ACLU on behalf of;  the People’s Organization for Progress, an African-American civil rights community organization; and NJ Peace Action, an activist organization devoted to Peace. 


At issue is an ordinance passed by Newark’s City Council that restricts leafleting to those who have registered with and obtained a permit from the police department.  The ordinance also prohibits protests, marches or vigils unless the organizers have obtained liability insurance coverage of $1,000,000.00.  The ACLU claims that the ordinance is unconstitutional and violates the right to free speech.


Newark’s handbill ordinance ( ordinance 8: 6 –1 ) states that persons handing out notices or leaflets on public sidewalks or streets without a permit can be arrested, but also requires that in order to obtain a permit, the Chief of Police must be satisfied that the person is of " good moral character ", the applicant must be fingerprinted, and must submit two recent pictures of himself  “of a size determined by the Chief of Police.”  Although the ordinance had been enacted years ago, the city council expressed its desire that Newark police actively enforce the ordinance commencing July 1, 2004.


Four years ago the ACLU also sued the City over free speech.  At that time residents and activists were complaining that the City Council was not permitting residents to address the Council during its meetings, and was instead forcing residents to speak at dedicated council meetings which were rarely attended by most Council members.  In December 1999, Newark residents presented petitions to the city clerk bearing thousands of signatures calling for the City Council to allow citizens the right to speak during regular council meetings.  Statutes require that the City Council adopt the petitioners’ ordinance or submit it to the voters at the next scheduled election, instead the City Council introduced an altered ordinance thus blocking the citizens’ referendum, and also barred public comment at council meetings.




Posted  September 5, 2004

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