Is Freedom of Speech Banned on City Sidewalks? The Mayor is About to Speak

“In denying the City of Providence’s motion for summary judgment in a section 1983 action, the Rhode Island Federal District Court rules that the Providence Police cannot deprive a citizen of her right to free speech by forcing her from a sidewalk where she was handing out flyers about the Mayor outside a public building where the Mayor was about to give a speech.”

Judith Reilly’s case crosses two lines: First Amendment Rights and Federal Constitution Rights.

Which supersedes the other?

If after reading this post you have additional questions regarding a similar case you’re facing, consult a criminal defense attorney in Rhode Island.

David Cicilline, the city Mayor, was set to address a crowd. Reilly, the plaintiff, was set to distribute flyers protesting one of the mayor’s recent decisions. After this event, Reilly filed a complaint with the police department, because she was repeatedly asked by police on duty to relocate to another area outside the event premises. She claims her rights to free speech were violated. In addition, the initial complaint filed to the police department was prolonged.

The police on duty however argue that these requests for relocation were made for public safety: “It’s the authority of a sworn police officer “to keep open exit passageways in the event of the necessity for a mass evacuation”, court document cite.

Were her rights violated?

The court will examine the following factors:

  1. Was this type of speech secured in First Amendment rights?
  2. Was the circumstance public or private?
  3. Were law enforcement’s decisions justified?

There are several debates:

  • The contents of the flyer were strong motivation for impeaching on the plaintiff’s rights – this is further exacerbated by the fact that the fonts on the flyer were bold, and that the Mayor himself glimpsed the plaintiff’s motives from a window inside the auditorium – the event venue.
  • The police however dispute having any knowledge of the contents of the flyer
  • In some circumstances, police can restrict some of the rights if sufficient alternatives for communication are presented. The plaintiff was asked to move from the entryway to deter obstructing pedestrian traffic as well as the exit ways.

The judge in this case concluded that Reilly’s right to free speech was indeed violated, because in essence the defendant was asked to move due to the contents of the leaflet.

Are you facing a similar case? If so, contact the law offices of John R. Grasso at 401-272-4001.

Source: United States District Court