OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — The city of Overland Park paid $50,000 in attorneys’ fees last week for its unconstitutional policy prohibiting the distribution of fliers on public sidewalks at the city’s soccer complex. A federal court ordered payment of the fees in the wake of its May 5 ruling striking down the free speech ban.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit against the city after the president of a Christian soccer camp, his wife, and his two sons were threatened with arrest for handing out fliers about the camp.
“Public officials should respect freedom of speech, not seek to suppress it,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “As the court rightly recognized, public sidewalks are one of the clearest examples of areas where the First Amendment protects free speech.”
“We hope other cities will take note of this ruling and understand the importance of respecting the Constitution’s free speech protections,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot.
In 2012, the president of Victory Through Jesus Sports Ministries Foundation and his family began to peacefully distribute fliers at the soccer complex about the foundation’s soccer camp. City officials and police told them to stop distributing the fliers and threatened to arrest them if they did not comply. The family complied and later filed suit through their ADF attorneys in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.
At the time of the incident, the city’s policy was unwritten. Shortly thereafter, the city codified the policy through a resolution that declared nearly the entire soccer complex property, both inside and outside of its gates, “to be ‘non-public’ forums, not open to the indiscriminate use of the general public for First Amendment expressive activity. These areas are not intended to be used as a forum for individuals to impose or offer their views to others unless invited to do so. Speeches, picketing, hand billing, pamphleteering and similar expressive activity shall not be allowed in these areas.”
As the district court wrote in its permanent injunction order in the case, Victory Through Jesus Sports Ministries Foundation v. City of Overland Park, “There is no reason to view these sidewalks as any different from any other city sidewalks…. The City has expressed its clear intent that most of the complex area (even the open city street running through it and the ball parks it has permanently leased to a third party) not be used for ‘First Amendment expressive activities….’ It would, of course, be absurd if the government could evade the First Amendment guarantee of free speech simply by expressing an intent to do so…. If the concern of the City is, as stipulated, litter and ensuring the efficient flow of pedestrian traffic, the broad ban imposed by the Resolution is an excessive response to those concerns.”
Michael Whitehead, one of more than 2,400 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, served as local counsel in the case.
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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