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NYPD Rescinds Policy Barring First Amendment Activity In Front Of Public Schools

To settle a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the youth-advocacy organization Youth Activists-Youth Allies (Ya-Ya) Network, the New York City Police Department has agreed to rescind a policy by which it was prohibiting all First Amendment activity on public sidewalks in front of schools. Under that policy, which has been in effect for years, the NYPD had barred the passing out of leaflets, petition-gathering, press conferences, picketing, and other First Amendment activity on public sidewalks in front of schools.

The NYCLU brought the case on behalf of the Ya-Ya Network in October 2003. Students working with the Ya-Ya Network were threatened with arrest outside of schools for handing out literature informing students of their rights to keep personal information from military recruiters and of the risks of relying on promises made by recruiters. Earlier that year, two students from another youth group were arrested outside a school for seeking to gather petition signatures about the City’s AIDS curriculum. As the NYCLU case was scheduled to go to trial this month, the City agreed to the settlement, which federal Judge Denise Cote approved earlier this month.

NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who handled the case, said, “Because schools are at the center of many important controversies, they should be a hotbed of First Amendment activity. This settlement assures that students, parents, teachers, advocates, and community members can exercise their First Amendment rights in front of schools without fear of arrest.”

Ya-Ya Network Executive Director Amy Wagner, who also was a plaintiff in the case, said, “As the public controversy over military recruiting in schools intensifies, it is particularly important that students have access to facts which are not included in the recruiters’ sales pitch. So long as recruiters are given free access to students inside of schools, we must have free access to students outside of schools.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman added, “The NYCLU will continue to fight for the free-speech rights of New Yorkers and against the abuses of military recruiters.”

Click here to read the settlement. (Requires the free Adobe Reader.)

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