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NYCLU Secures Agreement with Southampton Protecting Protestors’ Free Speech Rights

The New York Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has secured an agreement with the Village of Southampton that will permit anti-war protestors to march and carry signs expressing their views at this year’s Fourth of July parade. The agreement, approved by Federal District Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco, comes after a year-long lawsuit to protect the free speech rights of all parade participants.

The controversy that gave rise to this agreement developed when anti-war protestors were barred from participating in last year’s Fourth of July parade. On the eve of last year’s parade, it became necessary for anti-war protestors to file suit against the Village’s policy of censoring political speech. Through the heroic efforts of their counsel, James S. Henry, the protestors managed to secure a stipulated order permitting them to express their free speech rights while marching. The lawsuit continued over the next year, with the assistance of the NYCLU, because of the need to address the Village’s policy of denying protestors’ free speech rights. The Village and the protestors, backed by the NYCLU’s Suffolk Chapter, have now reached an agreement that should place the lawsuit on a path toward a resolution that will respect the freedom of speech of those who choose to participate in the Village’s parade celebrating our nation’s independence.

Under the terms of the agreement, the anti-war protestors who filed suit last year will be permitted to march and to carry signs again this year. But the agreement extends beyond the individual litigants in the case and adopts a procedure in which “any person, organization or group seeking to march in the July 4, 2007 Parade may apply to do so.” The agreement further sets out a process by which those applications will be reviewed and, if rejected, a procedure for appeal.

“Under the First Amendment, governments are prohibited from censoring individuals based upon the content of their expression,” said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU. “Moreover, the Supreme Court has observed that ‘there is an equality of status in the filed of ideas, and government must afford all points of view an equal opportunity to be heard. The procedure developed as part of this settlement is designed to promote equal opportunity for free expression.”

James S. Henry, who initiated the suit, has been assisted by Alan Polsky, Chair of the NYCLU Suffolk Chapter’s Legal Committee. “The Village’s decision to ban anti-war signs was a burden on free speech and a violation of the First Amendment,” Henry said.

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