Florida activists fight to retain right to petition at shopping centers

Freedom of speech is under attack in Florida where current bills in the House and Senate are threatening to restrict citizens from voter registration activities and leafleting around shopping centers, parking lots and other commercial property.

HB 233 attempts to reverse years of case law affirming that shopping malls have "quasi-public" status and would allow commercial property owners to have law enforcement officers charge anyone engaging in these types of activities with trespassing - a criminal offense.

The language in HB 233 is extremely generalized to give business owners blanket authority to ban any type of activity on their premises, including activities currently protected under the 1st Amendment.

There are no standards to define the circumstances covered, so individuals could be banned for wearing T-shirts with a political slogans business owners found objectionable, for example. It would also allow business owners to discriminate between groups, based on their personal beliefs.

Florida's shopping centers and commercial spaces have become the 21st Century town squares where community members can interact and share ideas.

Several related bills have been introduced by Republican State Senators. SB 736, introduced by Sen. Steve Oelrich, allows employers, owners and their agents to discriminate against persons or groups engaging in any type of activity they deem detrimental to business. SB 1920, introduced by Sen. Mike Fasano, bars citizens from engaging in activities related to petition initiatives outside commercial property, strip malls and shopping centers SB 900 introduced by Sen. Bill Posey bans paid signature gatherers.

Florida residents should call their Senators to object to these bills, which would limit free speech. Florida ACORN is working to stop these attacks on 1st Amendment rights.

Florida ACORN is working on this issue.

Tags: 1st amendment, ACORN, civil rights, democracy, First Amendment, Florida, Petitions, shopping centers, voter registration (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Blogs and Malls are Private Businesses

The right to free speech is a right to be free from GOVERNMENT efforts to squelch free speech.  However, a mall, like a blog, is a private enterprise wherein the owner has a right to establish the rules.  Just as the owners of a blog ultimately have the right to ban anyone whose speech they disapprove of, we must acknowledge that mall owners have the same right, because both are private businesses.  

It is hypocrisy to insist that a Republican mall owner open his mall to messages of which he disapproves while insisting that blog owners can censor any message or person they want because "the blog is mine."

Constitutional principles ought to be nearly universal in their application.  If the public has no right to free speech at a private blog, why should they have a right to free speech at a private mall?  

by Manic Lawyer 2007-04-06 09:59PM | 0 recs

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