Inner Harbor can't restrict First Amendment rights

May 31, 2011

I'm writing regarding your Saturday, May 28th front page news article titled "Harbor leafleting flap raises First Amendment questions."

As one who fiercely guards and treasures my First Amendment rights, I want to commend Bruce Friedrich and his six like-minded friends who on Sunday, May 22nd, believing they were exercising their First Amendment protected rights, handed out leaflets near the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor. That security guards asked them to leave, and a Baltimore police officer threatened to arrest him, was astonishingly reprehensible and came perilously close to unconstitutionality.

What this incident sadly says is that citizens are invited to visit the National Aquarium and other Inner Harbor sites, but they have better leave their First Amendment protected rights at home. First Amendment rights, however, are fundamental and are not so easily divisible.

Your article asserts that Mr. Friedrich and his friends were engaged in handing out leaflets on a pedestrian bridge between the Power Plant and the aquarium, in what is known as Area 10. It appears however that given the broad and irrational overreach of the various city rules governing First Amendment activities within the Inner Harbor, it would not have mattered where he and his friends were distributing their leaflets. Plain and simple, the city and the Inner Harbor's management have zero tolerance for First Amendment protected expressions, and clearly, this must change.

While it is positive to see the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenge the Inner Harbor's ban on certain First Amendment protected activities, given the clear unconstitutionality of the aquarium's and other Inner Harbor entities' restrictive First Amendment practices, one can reasonably ask why hasn't the ACLU pressed more timely and forcibly for an appropriate preliminary judicial decree, which enjoins the Inner Harbor's ban on citizens' First Amendment protected activities. Eight years is much too long for citizens to tolerate the Inner Harbor's and the city's patently unconstitutional conduct.

Both officials from the Waterfront Partnership and the aquarium seem to assume the position that since Area 10 is a city-owned land parcel leased to the aquarium, this makes the parcel private property and hence, authorizes the aquarium to restrict and suppress visiting citizens' First Amendment protected activities. This, of course, is not true. The aquarium's and Waterfront Partnership's practices ignore clear and well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent stretching over 40 years which outlawed and forbade even a completely private town, owned and managed by a private corporation, from banning citizens from handing out leaflets on the town's streets and sidewalks. If there is judicial precedent which outlaws and precludes a purely private town from banning citizens from handing out leaflets on a private town's streets and sidewalks, surely such precedent would likewise provide a basis to outlaw and preclude the aquarium and the entire publicly-owned Inner Harbor from banning citizens from handing out leaflets in public areas of the Inner Harbor. Mr. Friedrich and all Inner Harbor visitors deserve nothing less. Their First Amendment protected rights must be fully recognized and vindicated, without delay. Justice delayed is justice denied!

Arnold M. Jolivet, Baltimore

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