Pubdate: Thu, 29 Apr 2010
Source: Omaha World-Herald (NE)
Copyright: 2010 Omaha World-Herald Company
Author: Paul Hammel


LINCOLN -- A group's plan to hold a pro-marijuana rally in a Lincoln
city park has gone up in smoke. But the denial is drawing the fire of
the American Civil Liberties Union, which is considering a lawsuit
based on the denial of free-speech rights.

At issue is the City of Lincoln's refusal to waive a $125 fee and a
requirement that the group, "Cures Not Wars," buy liability insurance
for the use of a city park for a rally on Saturday.

Similar rallies have been scheduled without incident at Omaha's Gene
Leahy Mall for noon Saturday and noon May 8. More than 200 cities are
hosting events Saturday to urge legalization of hemp for industrial,
medical and social use.

While the Lincoln city attorney says the city's rules pass legal
muster, an attorney with ACLU Nebraska said they violate a 1992 U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that bans cities and counties from using
discretionary fees to discourage unpopular speech.

ACLU Attorney Amy Miller said a requirement that the group disclose
the messages on its protest signs suggests the city was discriminating
against the group because of its message.

That requirement, Miller said, " is designed to allow city officials a
sneak peek into whether the group is one they approve of or not."

The city's ordinance also allows the city parks director or mayor to
decide whether the park use is so "different from the regular" to
require the purchase of $500,000 worth of liability insurance and a
$5,000 surety bond to cover any park damages.

An organizer for the pro-pot rally said her group members are
volunteers who couldn't afford the insurance requirements or the $125
standard fee for using a Lincoln city park.

"It's kind of ridiculous," said Diana Wulf of Staplehurst, Neb. "We're
just a group of citizens coming together for our rights."

Wulf said her group was not assessed any fees for the use of the Omaha
mall or for using the steps of the State Capitol, where its Lincoln
rally was moved. It will be held there at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer said the ordinance was narrowly
drafted to avoid the legal issues raised in the 1992 Forsyth County v.
The Nationalist Movement court decision.

In that case, Confer said, a Georgia county had "unbridled discretion"
to charge a white supremacist a $1,000 fee to hold a protest march.

Confer pointed to clauses in the Lincoln ordinance that prohibit
discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, ancestry, age,
disability or national origin" in determining whether a bond and
liability insurance will be required.

Confer said the decision to deny use of the University Place Park was
based on the refusal to pay the required fees and insurance, not the
group's pro-pot message.

He said the city even offered a compromise -- to waive the insurance
requirements -- but "Cures Not Wars" rejected that.

Miller said the ACLU will decide next week whether to proceed with a

"The city has set up a scheme where your free-speech rights depend on
whether you have money in your pocket," she said. 
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