By Phillip Stamman of Southworth and Stamman, LLC on Friday, May 13, 2016.
On Tuesdays during the Spring and Fall, mothers of high school students provide an off-campus lunch along with a Christian message at a nearby park to students. The school district, along with the City of Middleton, pressured the mothers into leaving the park, claiming they were in violation of park rules. As a result of these unfounded claims, the group retained Attorney Phillip Stamman of Southworth and Stamman.
Freedom of Speech is Constitutionally Protected at a Public Park. A public park is the quintessential public forum where free speech is constitutionally protected. Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). The First Amendment prohibits restrictions on speech activity in traditional public fora such as public parks. Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939). This speech, of course, extends to religious speech. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 US 753, 760 (1995). "[G]overnment suppression of speech has so commonly been directed precisely at religious speech that a free-speech clause without religion would be Hamlet without the prince." Id.
After clarification of the law to involved parties and members of the public, the mothers were permitted to continue expressing their message at the public park. Instead of moving on to more important issues, however, it appears the City of Middleton may try to continue to make attempts at suppressing the speech of these mothers.
Ongoing Attempts to Suppress Speech According to a recent article from Watchdog.org, the City of Middleton may still try to prohibit the speech of moms at a public park. Per the article, the City of Middleton Administrator, stated, "the city council is going to review use of the park for the potential to reduce the conflict next school year." Furthermore, the 'Jesus Lunch' group was put on notice that the City may not honor the group's reservations at Fireman's Park.
Why would the City encourage First Amendment litigation by attempting to restrict speech at a public park?
People have the right to express their viewpoint at a public park. This type of speech should be encouraged by public officials, not opposed. Why is the City of Middleton looking to create controversy? Why would public officials involve themselves in shutting down free speech? Suppressing speech is not a solution to a problem, but a problem itself.