Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Silver Spring: A Public Forum

You remember a month or so ago we were talking about the strange situation in Silver Spring, where a corporation claimed that it owned a chunk of downtown and wasn't going to let people take photographs there. July Fourth a couple hundred photographers showed up, doing my rebellious little heart good.

Well, now the County Attorney has issued a ruling on the matter. It's eight pages long, but you get the whole thing, really, on page 1:

Do Ellsworth Drive, and its adjoining sidewalks and walkways, and other public areas (collectively, "Ellsworth Drive") constitute public fora such that PFA Silver Spring, LC, is limited in implementing restrictions on the First Amendment rights of users of Ellsworth Drive?


Ellsworth Drive constitutes a public forum. Thus, PFA Silver Spring, LC may only implement reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on protected speech which are content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serving a significant purpose, and which allow for reasonable alternative avenues of expression, or content-based restrictions which are narrowly tailored to serving a compelling purpose.

Office of the County Attorney

The Washington Post's Marc Fisher has been watching this story. He elaborates:
In an elegantly reasoned and clear opinion, Assistnt County Attorney Nowelle Ghahhari reminds the Peterson Companies, the developers of the highly successful downtown project, that the land upon which their development sits is public and that the developer has the right only to close Ellsworth Drive to vehicular traffic from time to time, not pedestrian traffic. Citing court cases in which judges have defined public fora as "those places which 'by long tradition or by government fiat have been devoted to assembly and debate'," the opinion says that streets and sidewalks are clearly such public places. Photo Freedom Update: MoCo Tells Silver Spring Developer to Let People Shoot

This makes me feel a little better. People over here in Rockville were looking at our lovely new Town Center, wondering if there was going to be a problem there, too -- and where else? You could just imagine a kind of situation where corporations owned all the public space, and your Constitutional rights didn't apply anywhere.

Looks like that's not going to happen, in Montgomery County at least.


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