SCRANTON – On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down the protest policy at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes Barre, stating that the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority must allow protesters to leaflet and speak with patrons on the sidewalks outside the arena.
In response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the court also held that the Authority could not forbid protesters from using amplification and could not prohibit profanity by protesters while allowing it from patrons and performers.
“Free speech does not exist solely for speech that is acceptable to those in power,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It exists to create a marketplace of ideas. We are deeply appreciative that our clients had the courage to challenge this policy.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania and lawyers from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP filed suit to challenge the arena protest policy in 2016 on behalf of Silvie Pomicter, a local animal rights activist, and Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating animal exploitation. In the lawsuit, Pomicter and LCA asked the court to allow the protesters to mingle with patrons attending circus performances at the arena scheduled for April and May 2016. The arena’s protest rules had previously required protesters to stay within a fenced pen; patrons had to walk over to the pen to take leaflets or speak with protesters.
The court issued a temporary ruling in 2016 allowing a small number of protesters to leaflet and carry signs outside the protest pens. The decision this week takes the place of the temporary injunction.
Pomicter explained that being confined to a pen made it difficult to speak to patrons and severely limited the activists’ ability to hand out literature. “In 31 years of protesting, I have never before had to stand in a cage. This is the United States of America, not North Korea. We should not be treated like criminals for speaking out,” Pomicter said.
“Leafletting is not dangerous; it is a time-honored way of advocating for causes, starting with the American Revolution,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the lawyers on the case. “We are pleased the court refused to cage speech.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper of ACLU-PA and Alexander Bilus, Amy Kline, Meghan Talbot, and Nicholas Fox of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP. The lawsuit, Pomicter and Last Chance for Animals v. Luzerne County Convention Center Authority and SMG, was decided in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
More information about the case, including copies of the lawsuit, the preliminary injunction decision, and the most recent decision are available at: www.aclupa.org/pomicter.