published Thursday, January 24th, 2013

New Orleans told to narrow Super Bowl “clean zone”

NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans must scale back its plans for a “clean zone” where the use of banners, signs and flags would be restricted during Super Bowl week, a federal judge said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt’s temporary restraining order says the city can only enforce the limits in an area near the Superdome, where the game will be played Feb. 3. The city had also planned to enforce the rules in the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods.

The judge’s ruling comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of an activist and a street preacher. They claimed a new city ordinance and a code enforcement guide trample on their free speech rights and limit their activities leading up to the title game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

The ACLU claims New Orleans adopted the new policies at the behest of the National Football League.

“The NFL asked them to do a whole bunch of things, including this,” said ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman.

Esman said other Super Bowl host cities have enforced similar rules in recent years, but they have never been challenged in court before.

Engelhardt’s order says the plaintiffs showed a “likelihood of success” in arguing that enforcing a broader “clean zone” is impermissible under the First Amendment. He scheduled a meeting Monday with lawyers for the city and ACLU to discuss the latter’s request for a preliminary injunction.

“It’s wonderful that the judge recognizes the city doesn’t have a right to curtail speech throughout a large chunk of the city,” Esman said.

The city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas are named as defendants in the suit. A spokesman for the city didn’t immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment.

The judge didn’t immediately act on the group’s request for a court order barring the city from enforcing the “clean zone” limits, which are scheduled to take effect on the morning of Jan. 28 and end on the evening of Feb. 5.

The ordinance, passed last month, says banners, flags and signs aren’t prohibited in the “clean zone” without the OK of the city or the NFL. The content of any temporary signs approved by the city must consist of at least 60 percent Super Bowl or NFL branding. The guide, meanwhile, says no signs will be permitted unless the applicant is an NFL sponsor, the suit says.

The plaintiffs are Tara Jill Ciccarone, an Occupy NOLA member, and Troy Bohn, pastor of a religious congregation that regularly preaches on Bourbon Street.

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