City, Following Lawsuit, Says 'Free Speech Zones' are Legal and Common

The City is scratching its head over a lawsuit filed against it by the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

SAPFFA attorney Chris Feldman filed the lawsuit, which claims that the City's ruling that the firefighters had to stay more than 200 feet away from the front doors of libraries when they were gathering signatures for the three charter review items that will appear on the ballot in November violated their fights to free speech

."This is not a monetary damages suit," he said.  "We are simply looking for a declaratory judgement that the City's polices are unconstitutional," Feldman said.

People seeking signatures on the petitions say they were kicked out of the Semmes Library off of Judson Road and told to stay nearly 300 feet away from the library.  Feldman says politicians, for example, are allowed to come within 100 feet of a library when it is a polling place on Election Day, but citizens seeking petition signatures on issues with which the City disagrees have to stay three football fields away.

"People that care about government, and they need to be able to do that, without threat of arrest," he said.

But City spokesman Jeff Coyle says designated 'Free Speech Zones' are not unusual, and are in fact relatively common in cases like this.

"Every single one of our libraries has a Free Speech Zone, where everybody who is conducting political activities is required to be," he said.

Free Speech Zones have been set up for decades at political conventions, around abortion clinics, and at areas where speakers may disrupt the normal commerce of an area, or to prevent individuals from being harassed or intimidated by activists.

"We received countless complaints from the public about the petition gathering activities of the fire union," Coyle said.  "That's what brought a lot of this to a head."

Ironically, the SAPFFA succeeded in its petition gathering efforts, despite what it claims was the egregious efforts of the city to block its campaigning.  The three measures, including one to drastically limit the salary and term of office of the City Manager, will be on the general election ballot in November.

The SAPFFA has been on a four-year campaign to become a 'thorn in the side' of City government, due to the controversey over the union's ongoing contract impasse.  The union spearheaded the effort to kill the downtown streetcar plan and has attempted to sabotage other aspects of City government.

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