Protect right to protest
Speak up, protesters. Thanks to a sound ruling on sound by U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani of Scranton, it’s clearer than ever that publicly operated venues and their private managers can’t silence you for their own convenience.
The judge ruled April 10 in a case brought by avid animal rights activist Silvie Pomicter of South Abington Township against the publicly owned Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township and SMG, its contracted manager.
Pomicter and other protesters found themselves penned and silenced when they protested the now-defunct Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus’ use of elephants and other animals in performances. Arena policy called for the protesters to be herded behind barricades, and it forbade their use of amplification equipment and barred them from using vulgarity.
Pomicter and Last Chance for Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group, argued that the arena’s policy violated their free speech rights, which obviously is the case.
Mariani ruled that the arena cannot impose restrictions on protesters that it does not impose on anyone else. Indeed, barring vulgarity by people outside is dubious when the arena often is filled with hockey fans.
And, as noted by Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, protest cannot be defined only by the venue.
“Protest is not just about holding a sign,” she said. “Our clients’ goal is to educate people about the treatment of animals and to educate people you need to be able to speak with them. That is what this case is about.”
That does not mean that people who are approached by protesters. They are free to listen, to disagree or to walk away.
Although the right to protest is protected by the First Amendment, that right often is abused by people and institutions in power. It is especially rampant, and especially wrong, at political events where police often herd protesters into remote areas under the guise of security.
Mariani’s ruling is an important reminder that the First Amendment remains a bul-