Arguments aired in free-speech case

The plaintiffs want the right to petition at air shows.
Sunday, October 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:21 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A case regarding free speech awaits a judge’s decision following oral hearings at the MU School of Law on Friday.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Maureen Doyle and Bill Wickersham, and the defendants, Salute to Veterans Corporation and the city of Columbia, argued before District Court Judge Nannette Laughrey in the courtroom at Hulston Hall.

In March, both plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the city for the right to petition and leaflet at the Salute to Veterans Corporation’s annual air show. Laughrey issued a temporary injunction permitting Doyle and Wickersham to leaflet and protest, but not to petition at the event.

At the oral hearings, Mary Teitelbaum, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked that the temporary injunction be changed to a permanent one and that it include the right to petition.

Wickersham said the judge had not permitted them to petition because she had deemed the air show to be a nonpublic forum based on the historical use of the tarmac at the airport. The judge cited an opinion by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the case International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, in which she wrote that in a nonpublic forum, people could not intrude on other people. The opinion said accepting a leaflet does not involve face-to-face solicitation, unlike petitioning, which requires interaction with the solicitor and is therefore more intrusive.

But Wickersham said that though the airport was considered a nonpublic forum, there were other organizations present such as the Air Force, Navy, Army and National Guard that were doing things that could be considered intrusive because they had recruiting tables and were handing out literature to people.

All that remains in the lawsuit is the judge’s decision.

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