ORANGE COUNTY, CA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today filed suit on behalf of the Orange County Dyke March and the Gay and Lesbian Services Center of Orange County (The Center OC) because of unreasonable and unconstitutional permit requirements imposed on the march organizers by the city of Costa Mesa. The suit, filed in federal court, names the city of Costa Mesa as defendant.
'The city's permit scheme is clearly unconstitutional,' said Martha Matthews, Bohnett Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. 'The Costa Mesa permit scheme invites the very evils the First Amendment forbids: it vests public officials with unbridled discretion to determine who may speak in the public streets and parks and under what conditions, thus allowing the city to favor speech they support and disfavor speech they oppose.'
'We gave the city fair warning,' continued Matthews, referring to a letter sent to the Costa Mesa city council earlier this week. The letter asked the city to revise their existing permit scheme as applied to the march or face a First Amendment lawsuit.
On June 18, 2003, the Orange County Dyke March applied to the City of Costa Mesa for a special events permit to hold a rally and protest march on August 16, 2003. The city approved the permit with 18 conditions, many of which were different from the 8 conditions which were imposed on the 2002 event held in Costa Mesa. Members of the Orange County Dyke March organizing committee met with city officials to negotiate these permit conditions. Organizers received an amended permit with 22 conditions, many of which imposed burdensome requirements that would unfairly interfere with the purpose of the event. When the city and march organizers were unable to reach a compromise, legal action became necessary.
'The conditions were clearly designated to make the process so complicated and so intimidating that we would just give up and go away,' said Lori Hutson, member of the Orange County Dyke March organizing committee. 'Well, we're not going away. We made every effort to follow the permit process the way they wanted, but it was restrictive beyond reason. Some conditions, like requiring our motorcycle riders to provide their personal information prior to the event, constituted invasions of our privacy and showed that the city was anticipating a problem with us. We have given the city no reason to believe the march would be anything but peaceful.'
'We had this event last year with no public safety or security problems,' said Catie Profeta, another member of the Orange County Dyke March committee. 'It was the first event of its kind for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women on public streets in Orange County since 1989, and it meant a lot to our community. All we want is to have our event again this year, but the city has presented us with a host of permit conditions and roadblocks designed to discourage us. Negotiations with the city have been unsuccessful, and unfortunately we're left with no other option than to go to court to protect our rights.'
'As the fiscal sponsor of Orange County Dyke March, we are in full support of this legal action,' said Terry Stone, Executive Director of The Center OC. 'There are times you have to take a stand for what's right, and this is one of them. We believe the city's conditions are burdensome and oppressive and infringe on Dyke March's right to freedom of speech and assembly.'