• City Ordinance that Bans the Solicitation of Immediate Payment of Funds at an Airport Does Not Violate the Right to Free Speech
  • April 29, 2010 | Author: Mona Ebrahimi
  • Law Firm: Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard A Law Corporation - Sacramento Office
  • In International Society of Krishna Consciousness of California, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal., March 25, 2010), the California Supreme Court considered whether the Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) was a public forum under the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution, and whether a city ordinance banning the solicitation of the immediate payment of funds at the airport violated that clause. The Court ruled that it did not need to determine whether LAX was a public forum because regardless, the ordinance is valid as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction that is narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.

    Facts
    In 1997, the Los Angeles City Council (“City”) enacted an ordinance banning the soliciting of funds at LAX. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, Inc. (“ISKCON”) filed suit in federal district court seeking to void the ordinance for violating its right to free speech under the California and United States Constitutions. The district court declared the ordinance unconstitutional and enjoined the City from enforcing it. The City appealed.

    While on appeal, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Los Angeles Alliance for Survival v. City of Los Angeles (2000) 22 Cal.4th 352, which held that an ordinance regulating the solicitation of the immediate payment of funds was not content-based and was constitutional. The United States Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court for reconsideration in view of the Los Angeles Alliance decision. The district court again ruled the ordinance unconstitutional and the City again appealed.

    With the City’s appeal pending, the U.S. Court of Appeals then asked the California Supreme Court to decide this question: “Is Los Angeles International Airport a public forum under the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution?”

    Decision
    The Court determined that regardless whether or not LAX is a public forum for free expression under the California Constitution, the ordinance is valid as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction of expressive rights to the extent that it prohibits soliciting the immediate receipt of funds. Accordingly, the Court would not decide whether LAX is a public forum because resolving that question would not determine the outcome of the case.

    Citing its ruling in Los Angeles Alliance, the Court said an ordinance restricting speech can be constitutional if it is narrowly tailored, serves a significant government interest, and leaves open ample alternative avenues of communication. Such an ordinance must also be content-neutral, meaning that it is justified by concerns that are unrelated to any disagreement with the message conveyed by the speech. The Court found the City’s ordinance survives that constitutional analysis and stated, “Prohibiting persons from soliciting the immediate receipt of funds at LAX is a narrowly tailored regulation of expressive activity because it is not substantially broader than necessary to address the particular problems caused by requests for the immediate receipt of funds.” Soliciting the immediate receipt of funds is far more intrusive than other forms of speech, such as distributing literature. At a busy international airport, it becomes even more problematic, the Court added.

    Furthermore, the Court continued, the ordinance left open many alternative avenues of communication for ISKCON at LAX, including distributing literature and speaking to willing travelers, and even soliciting funds so long as it does not request immediate payment. As such, the Court concluded that regardless of whether LAX is a public forum, the ordinance is valid on its face as a reasonable, content-neutral regulation of the manner of protected speech.