Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California joined the defense of Truong Van Tran, who leases a store in an Orange County shopping center, and was recently ordered by an Orange County Superior Court Judge to remove a picture of Ho Chi Minh and the current flag of the Republic of Vietnam from the walls of his store. The court issued the order on the grounds that the flag and picture, which caused protest in the strongly anti-Communist community in Westminster, is a public nuisance, which is barred by Mr. Tran's lease.
"We believe that the Court's order interprets the meaning of 'public nuisance' far too broadly, and in doing so, violates Mr. Tran's rights under the First Amendment and the 'Liberty of Speech Clause' of the California constitution," said ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg. "The law is clear that controversial speech cannot be silenced on the ground that it is a public nusiance, even if the speech causes hostile reaction to that speech. Any other interpretation of the First Amendment would have a chilling effect on the rights of people to exercise free speech."
The ACLU, along with Mr. Tran's attorney Ronald Talmo, who has worked with the ACLU on numerous cases in the past, intend to file an opposition to the Shopping center's motion for a preliminary injunction this Friday, seeking to allow Mr. Tran to engage in protected speech once again, and requesting that the court deny any further injunctive order against Mr. Tran. A hearing on the preliminary injunction motion is scheduled for February 4, 1999 at the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.
"Allowing a vague lease provision such as a 'public nuisance' to be considered a waiver of a fundamental constitutional right, sets a dangerous precedent," said Mr. Tran's attorney Ronald Talmo. It is sadly ironic that so many of Mr. Tran's critics left Vietnam in search of the very freedom of speech that they now seek to stifle.