First Amendment

Chalk Protester's Free Speech Rights Violated, Judge Rules

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A federal judge ruled Friday that Orlando, Fla., police violated a protester’s free speech rights when they arrested him for writing political messages in chalk on the plaza in front of city hall.

Timothy Osmar, who is homeless, was arrested twice last December for violating a city ordinance that prohibits writing or painting “advertising matter” on city streets and sidewalks, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Osmar was arrested the first time after he wrote “the revolution will not be televised.” He was arrested again a week later after writing “All I want for Christmas is a revolution.”

U.S. District Magistrate Judge David A. Baker, in a 10-page ruling Friday, held that the ordinance had been misapplied because it was meant to regulate advertising, not political speech, The judge also said the issues Osmar raised go directly to open debate of important public concerns in the public square.

Baker pointed out that the Orlando Rotary Club has, with the city’s blessing, held a chalk art festival in the same plaza for several years. He also noted that Mayor Buddy Dyer encouraged local businesses to chalk up their sidewalks to show support for the Orlando Magic during the 2009 playoffs. “The city may not selectively interpret and enforce the ordinance based on its own desire to further the causes of particular favored speakers,” he wrote.

City officials have previously signaled their intent to appeal an adverse ruling.

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