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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Protest Policy at Public Arena Found to Violate First Amendment

An interesting First Amendment case was recently decided by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the constitutionality of a "protest policy" at a publicly-owned arena. Pomicter v. Luzerne County Convention Center Authority

The Luzerne County Convention Center Authority owns the Mohegan Sun Arena, a large event space in Pennsylvania. The publicly-owned arena hosts athletic and other entertainment events. The arena's "protest policy" allows people to express their views, subject to several limitations. These include (1) requiring protesters to stand in designated areas on the concourse, (2) prohibiting protesters from using profanity or vulgarity, and (3) prohibiting any artificial voice amplification. 

An animal rights activist and organization protesting a circus event sued the Authority contenting that the protest policy violated the First Amendment. The district court agreed, finding all three challenged restrictions in the protest policy in violation of the First Amendment. 

The Authority appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which upheld the decision in part and reversed it in part.  First, the 3rd Circuit held that the policy's designated area restrictions were reasonable, as they were intended to maintain orderly and safe movement of patrons into and out of the arena. However, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the district court that the profanity ban was unreasonable and violated the First Amendment, finding that the profanity ban only applied to protesters and was not applicable to patrons attending the sporting and other events at the arena.  Similarly, the 3rd Circuit struck down the amplification ban, finding that the Authority did not provide any reasonable justification for the ban.


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