A lawsuit has been filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression against a Pennsylvania county for restricting Americans’ speech in a public park.
The case brought by FIRE is over the speech ban being imposed at Fort Hunter Park in Dauphin County.
“The county’s actions are an outrageous infringement of Pennsylvanians’ First Amendment Rights,” explained Kevin Gaughen, a plaintiff in the case and a board member for the state’s new Keystone Party.
“We are filing this lawsuit to protect the First Amendment rights of everyone in Dauphin County.”
The county had prohibited two people from collecting petition signatures in the public area, the FIRE explained.
“In an effort to collect the signatures their party needed to put its candidates on the ballot, Gaughen and Dave Kocur, the party’s candidate for Pennsylvania House District 104, went to where they knew they could find eligible voters: a public park.”
However, as they stood in an open area asking passersby to sign petitions, party security officers confronted them and ordered them to stop.
“The duo rightly pointed out they had the right to engage in political speech in a public park. One of the guards said he would have to ask his boss about that. Parks Director Anthea Stebbins arrived, ordered Gaughen and Kocur to stop what they were doing, and told them that the county bars all political activity inside Fort Hunter Park,” the FIRE reported.
“Public servants shouldn’t silence their constituents,” said Jeff Zeman, a lawyer for FIRE. “If Dauphin County was really interested in serving the public, it would have allowed Gaughen and Kocur to talk to their neighbors about the issues they care about.”
The foundation pointed out that it has been precedent in the U.S. Supreme Court for more than 80 years that governments cannot prohibit citizens from using public areas for political speech.
The foundation earlier issued a demand letter to the county that it lift its ban on political expression, to which the county doubled down, demanding that “Fort Hunter Park is not open to political activity – by anyone!”
The lawsuit seeks a court ruling that the county is infringing on the First Amendment rights of residents and an injunction that would force it to follow the Constitution.
“The government doesn’t get to decide what you are allowed to talk about in a public park,” said FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “Circulating a petition in a park is as American as baseball and apple pie.”