Wednesday, August 19, 2015

8th Circuit: Preacher's Free Speech Rights Not Infringed By State Fair Rules On Where He Can Stand

In Powell v. Noble, (8th Cir., Aug. 14, 2015), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the federal district court that a Christian preacher's free expression rights were not infringed when he was barred from delivering his religious message just outside the paid admission area at the Iowa State Fair. The court said in part:
The fair’s rule prohibiting impeding the flow of people in and out of the fairgrounds addresses the need to limit congestion and disruption and to facilitate safe and efficient access to the fair.... Powell retains alternative channels of communication on the fairgrounds.... While these alternatives may not be Powell’s first choice, “‘[t]he First Amendment does not demand unrestricted access to a nonpublic forum merely because use of that forum may be the most efficient means of delivering the speaker’s message.’” .... We also conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding Powell is unlikely to succeed in showing the rule against bringing signs attached to poles and sticks to the fair is unreasonable....The state has a valid interest in protecting the safety of fairgoers... Neither are we persuaded by Powell’s argument that the rule is arbitrary because the fair allows mounted poles to support tents and flags and small sticks for the fair’s many food-on-a-stick offerings.
The court however remanded the case to the district court for it to consider whether the State Fair's unwritten rules on access to the fairgrounds are overly vague in violation of the due process clause.  The Des Moines Register reports on the decision.