ANN ARBOR, MI – Another American city is attempting to silence the free speech of “Overpasses for America” activists calling for the impeachment of President Obama and for government reforms such as border security. This time, the group’s message is being stifled by an ordinance adopted by the Dallas City Council on January 22, 2014, which imposes fines of up to $500 for certain expressive activities on pedestrian overpasses over designated highways.
The ordinance makes it an offense to engage in any conduct, including holding a sign, intended to distract a motorist, or wearing any clothing intended to attract the attention of the public.
The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, late yesterday afternoon filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Dallas ordinance on behalf of Overpasses for America (OfA) and its Texas State Leader, Valeria Villarreal. Joining TMLC as local co-counsel is Houston attorney, Jerad Najvar.
The lawsuit claims the ordinance violates the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble.
Erin Mersino, TMLC Senior Trial Counsel, who is handling the case, commented, “This is another example of a city silencing the message of a certain viewpoint in a traditional public forum without legal justification. Here, there is no history that Plaintiffs’ speech imposed any public safety threat. Such an invalid restriction on free speech curtails all of our free speech freedoms and wrongfully imperils one of our inalienable rights as Americans.”
OfA is a non-partisan grassroots movement which spreads a message about the need for accountability amongst our nation’s leaders. The use of pedestrian overpasses effectively allows OfA members to reach a large and diverse audience. TMLC is currently representing two Plaintiffs in a case challenging a similar ordinance in the Town of Campbell, Wisconsin.
Before the challenged ordinance was adopted, OfA had held over 75 demonstrations on pedestrian overpasses in the Dallas area, frequently organizing the events in cooperation with the Dallas Police Department and a Director of Homeland Security in Dallas.
The ordinance was passed under the guise that it was necessary for traffic safety and the safety of police officers. However, the lack of any real safety issue was highlighted during the council debate on the ordinance when the Dallas Chief of Police, pressed by Councilman Phillip Kingston, could not point to any instance in which a OfA protest caused an accident. Nevertheless, the council adopted the ordinance, which took effect on January 27, 2014, by a 10-4 vote.
On March 1, 2014, with the cooperation of the Dallas Police Department and a Director of Homeland Security in Dallas, Villarreal and OfA-Dallas held a successful demonstration on the Northaven overpass over the Dallas North Tollway.
However, when Villarreal called the Dallas Police Department to inform them of OfA-Dallas’ plans to hold a demonstration on March 15, 2014, she was told that the police department was now obligated to enforce the city ordinance.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of TMLC, stated: “The viewpoints of a majority of Americans on crucial public issues are no longer expressed by their elected representatives. The concerns of a majority of Americans seem to have little impact on the decisions made by politicians who are more concerned with appeasing lobbyists, special interest groups, and wealthy donors. That’s why it’s so important to defend the free speech rights of grass roots organizations like Overpasses for America, whose members feel it’s their patriotic duty to stand for hours on these overpasses to get their message out and mobilize their fellow citizens.”
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. It supports a strong national defense and an independent and sovereign United States of America. The Law Center accomplishes its mission through litigation, education, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.