Airport defends handbill policies in face of lawsuit | The Journal Gazette | Fort Wayne, IN

A local Army combat veteran wants to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution and other literature in protest of the federal government’s new airport security screening methods.

But when Paul Anthony Stanton told officials at Fort Wayne International Airport of his intention, he received a copy of new rules spelling out where and when he could conduct his protest – outside the terminal and only after pre-approval.

Such restrictions were unacceptable to Stanton, who, with the help of the ACLU of Indiana, filed a federal lawsuit against the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, its board and executive director.

In his lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, Stanton alleges the airport’s new rules, enacted in mid-November, are a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and he wants a federal judge to declare them invalid.

Airport officials said the rules were created as a security measure, necessary to protect the public and airport staff.

In November, after concerns about one group trying to pass out leaflets through the baggage claim doors to workers in the back, officials asked the airport board to enact rules regulating when people can solicit, pass out leaflets or conduct “expressive activities” at the airport, said Craig Williams, director of administration and finance at the airport.

“That’s a major safety and security issue for us,” Williams said. “Our fear is that if it happens unfettered throughout the terminal then people will end up getting themselves potentially hurt and put us at a security risk.”

There had also been some requests in the past from a variety of groups asking permission to hand out information to those passing through the airport terminals, Williams said.

According to the airport’s rules, “expressive activity” is defined as protesting, proselytizing, or other communication of an idea or ideas. Participating in such activity is limited to certain hours and can only be done at a location specified by the airport.

To participate in such activity, a person must obtain a permit that includes the subject matter the person wants to talk about, how many people will be participating and what time of day, according to court documents.

The small “free-speech zone” where such activity can occur is located at the west end of the terminal, outside the building, according to court documents.

The area is so small it is rather comical, said Stanton’s attorney, Gavin Rose.

“It’s a tiny, tiny area,” Rose said.

According to court documents, Stanton opposes new federal airport security measures and wants to pass out copies of the Constitution and other documents to people passing through the airport.

As a courtesy, he contacted the airport authority and asked whether it was OK and whether there were any restrictions, Rose said.

Stanton and his colleagues do not intend to solicit for money and will not ask people to sign a petition. Rather, they just want to hand out materials. Stanton seeks a court order preventing the airport from enforcing the new rules, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, Stanton alleges such rules violate the First Amendment in many ways, including requiring the permit for the activity and giving the airport director “unbridled” discretion in determining whether to approve the request.

“It is very, very restrictive of free speech rights,” Rose said of the new rules that he said restrict “expressive activity that has no effect on airport operations whatsoever.”

rgreen@jg.net

Free speech only exists in America when you are “in sync” with the political whims of those currently in power. I wish I could join this lawsuit….

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