NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is suing to block the city of New Orleans from maintaining a so-called "clean zone" where the use of banners, signs and flags will be restricted during Super Bowl festivities.
The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of an activist and a street preacher who claim the city's enforcement of a new ordinance and a code enforcement guide will trample on their free speech rights and limit their activities in the days leading up to the Feb. 3 game.
The ACLU claims the city adopted the new policies at the behest of the NFL.
A federal judge didn't immediately act on the group's request for a court order barring the city from enforcing the "clean zone" limits.
According to a press release issued by the ACLU on Thursday:
On behalf of Tara Ciccarone and Pastor Troy Bohn, today the ACLU of Louisiana sought an order to block enforcement of the "Clean Zone" enacted as part of the preparations for the Super Bowl. The plaintiffs seek to engage in constitutionally protected speech that is barred by this ordinance, adopted by the City of New Orleans at the behest of the NFL.RSS Feed
The "Clean Zone" establishes an area of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, and the Central Business District, where between January 28th and February 3rd the following prohibitions apply:
Inflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs, and light emitting diode signs of any kind shall be prohibited except for those sanctioned or authorized by the City,
General and mobile advertising (including, but not limited to, signs on or attached to a vehicle, portable device or person) shall be prohibited except for promotional displays sanctioned or authorized by the City (consisting of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification) and by the National Football League (NFL), including, but not limited to, those placed on existing public utility poles.
Anyone - business or individual - who wishes to display such signs, flags, banners or other items must apply for a permit, and only official NFL sponsors may apply. Additionally, any such sign, banner or flag must "consist of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification."
In other words, within the "Clean Zone" nobody can fly a flag of any kind - Mardi Gras, American flag, Louisiana flag, LSU flag - and simple signs such as "Restrooms for Customers Only", "Buy your King Cake here," or "Roger Goodell will not be served here" are forbidden unless the speaker is an NFL sponsor; the NFL and the City approve the message; and the content is at least 60% NFL branding.
Tara Ciccarone, a member of the Occupy group, plans to display signs and billboards with political messages in the French Quarter and the CBD during the Super Bowl. Among them are signs saying "Money is not more important than constitutional rights, despite what Clean Zone would indicate," and "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech..." Pastor Bohn, of Raven Ministries, regularly preaches on Bourbon Street. He and his congregation wear t-shirts and carry signs that read "I Love Jesus," "Ask Me How Jesus Changed My Life," or similar messages, and carry a large cross emblazoned with the words "Raven Street Church." All of these messages are prohibited by the "Clean Zone" ordinance.
"Even the Super Bowl isn't an excuse to suspend the First Amendment," said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman. "The founders of our country didn't intend our rights to be suspended for a football game."
While the ACLU's immediate lawsuit concerns only noncommercial speech, the organization is concerned about the Clean Zone's commercial implications as well. The "Clean Zone" forbids real estate "for sale" signs, and temporary advertisements on vehicles such as taxi cabs and food delivery cars. Esman continued: "Businesses have the right to promote themselves. If our local businesses are to benefit from the many visitors we expect, they must be able to inform customers of their offerings. Prohibiting stores from telling people they sell king cakes, or posting 'for sale' signs at properties, will hurt New Orleans businesses and deprive our visitors of the many options we have for them."
The ACLU of Louisiana's suit against the City of New Orleans was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans. Copies of the Complaint and related documents are linked below.
Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans - Complaint
Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans - Memorandum for TRO
Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans - Exhibit 1 - Ordinance
Ciccarone et al v. New Orleans - Exhibit 2 - Guide