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Monday, June 12, 2017

County's Public Forum Policy Unconstitutional

The Higher Society of Indiana wanted to hold a rally at the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, and applied for a permit from the County Board of Commissioners. The County denied the permit, and the organization brought a federal lawsuit claiming the denial violated the group's First Amendment rights. In a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the court agreed with the group and granted its request for an injunction. Higher Society of Indiana v. Tippecanoe County (7th Cir. June 7, 2017)

In 1999, after a controversy about a nativity scene at the courthouse, the County Board had voted to declare the courthouse grounds a "closed forum," and adopted a policy that only displays and events sponsored and prepared by county government would be allowed. After adopting the policy, the County approved a variety of events to take place on the courthouse grounds, including an art fair, a League of Women Voters event, a Fraternal Order of Police event, among others.  Still other groups held events without obtaining County permission, including Planned Parenthood, Greater Lafayette Moms in favor of Gun Sense, and others. 

In Court, the County conceded that its policy was not viewpoint neutral, but argued that its policy only allowed government speech, which the County could legally control. The Court rejected the County's argument, however, citing the various events that the County did approve or that did take place that were not traditional government speech, and instead fell within private speech similar to Higher Society's proposed rally. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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