Thanks largely to Mike Pence, Indiana is a hard place to be gay and a hard place to be a woman. And while the Hoosier State is surrounded by states where cannabis is available to sick people, lawmakers in Indianapolis have been so intransigent on the issue that one man was led to literally walk across the state in an attempt to get them to change their minds.
Perhaps inspired by their governor, who is soon to be sworn in as vice-president, the leaders of one Indiana county wanted to go one step further—and declare their public buildings off-limits to any kind of free speech they didn’t approve.
Specifically, commissioners in Tippecanoe County wanted to bar marijuana activists from demonstrating on the steps of the county courthouse—but just marijuana activists, and just marijuana activists from Higher Ground, an organization that spent last year staging demonstrations in all 92 Indiana counties in support of legalizing medical marijuana.
Higher Ground organized one rally last year in Lafayette, the seat of Tippecanoe County, on May 11, but failed to win permission from county commissioners for a second rally, as WIBC reported. As a judge observed, the sole reason for the commissioners’ denial of Higher Ground’s permit to assemble was because they didn’t agree with the group’s message.
Local governments restricting free speech in this way is sadly nothing new. Restrictions like these are also seen at national political conventions, which set aside “free-speech zones” for demonstrators and agitators whose messages may not be welcome on a main stage.
In Tippecanoe’ case, county commissioners argued that the county courthouse is a government building, and therefore open only to “government speech,” WIBC reported.
Incensed by the clear restriction on First Amendment rights, the American Civil Liberties Union took up the case on Higher Ground’s behalf and took the county to court, where a federal judge ruled in their favor.
During court proceedings, the county continued to insist that it had the right to determine what “free” speech would be allowed at the courthouse. A federal judge disagreed, pointing out that such a narrow definition—one proffered while allowing other political organizations to freely demonstrate on courthouse grounds, sometimes without official permission—stretches the definition of “government speech” to the breaking point.
“The only reason I could see implementing such a rule is to give them the ability to restrict certain speech in the first place,” said David Phipps, the co-founder of Higher Ground, in comments to WIBC.
Higher Ground can now officially resume exercising its First Amendment rights throughout Indiana.
Several rallies throughout the state are already planned, though a date for its next agitation in Tippecanoe County has yet to be set. In the meantime, the group planned to demonstrate on Tuesday at the statehouse, the radio station reported.
“This isn’t about us,” Phipps told the radio station. “This is about our American right to assemble anywhere we see fit, especially government property.”
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