Library Leafleting Policies Struck Down In Court Of Appeal

January 16, 2013, by Kevin P. McLaughlin

A recent challenge to broad policies regulating leafleting at the municipal library of the City of Redding saw a number of those policies struck down on First Amendment grounds.  In response to leafleting activity at the library, the library established a number of controls over leafleting.  The library designated a “free speech area” near the front entrance where leafleting could occur; prohibited all leafleting in the library parking lot; prohibited all leafleting involving solicitation of funds; required leafleting reservations at least 72 hours in advance; and prohibited any “offensively coarse utterance, gesture, or display, or… abusive language toward another person.”

In Primrose v. City of Redding, the Third District of the California Court of Appeal upheld nearly all of an injunction striking these restrictions.  First, the court defined the forum narrowly, and found the public space near the entry to the library and the parking lot to be a traditional public forum.  The court then found that most of the leafleting restrictions were not narrowly tailored to serve important government interests.  Leafleting by individuals was not shown to cause congestion problems, and limiting individuals to a “free speech area” was a broader remedy than necessary to limit congestion.  The prohibition on solicitation of funds extended even to solicitation of future donations, and was not narrowly drawn to achieve an important government interest.  There was no evidence that, without a limited “free speech area,” there was any need for a reservation system, and the prohibition on offensive or coarse speech or conduct violated established First Amendment principles. 

Because the City had presented evidence of safety concerns associated with leafleting in the parking lot, and not merely a desire to control littering, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s injunction against enforcement of that portion of the library policy.

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