Jury Trial Tomorrow About Whether Koran-Burning Pastor Has to Post a Bond for Security Costs Related to His Planned Rally

The Detroit Free-Press reports:

Florida Pastor Terry Jones is expected to appear in court this morning for a jury trial that will determine whether he can hold a rally at the largest mosque in the city….

Jones appeared in court Thursday and refused to post a bond for the massive security effort Dearborn says it would have to deploy if Jones were allowed to rally. The judge [Mark Somers] then ordered the trial….

I think requiring anything other than a modest, content-neutral permit fee would be unconstitutional, as the Court held in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992). Forsyth County struck down an ordinance that required organizations to pay a security fee (capped at $1000) for “the cost of necessary and reasonable protection [for assemblies] … [that] exceeds the usual and normal costs of law enforcement ….” The Court found the security fee unconstitutional because, among other reasons, the regulation included no objective standards directing how to establish the level of the fee. Instead, the amount of the security fee was left to the “whim of the administrator.” And even beyond the unconstrained discretion as to the amount, the Court held that a demonstration permit fee can’t be based on the likely risk that audience members will react violently:

The Forsyth County ordinance contains more than the possibility of censorship through uncontrolled discretion. As construed by the county, the ordinance often requires that the fee be based on the content of the speech.

The county envisions that the administrator, in appropriate instances, will assess a fee to cover “the cost of necessary and reasonable protection of persons participating in or observing said … activit[y].” In order to assess accurately the cost of security for parade participants, the administrator “‘must necessarily examine the content of the message that is conveyed,’” estimate the response of others to that content, and judge the number of police necessary to meet that response. The fee assessed will depend on the administrator’s measure of the amount of hostility likely to be created by the speech based on its content. Those wishing to express views unpopular with bottle throwers, for example, may have to pay more for their permit….

The costs to which petitioner refers are those associated with the public’s reaction to the speech. Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.

A sound analysis, it seems to me, and one that would preclude jury-set fees for speakers who “might offend a hostile mob” a well as fees set by government officials. To its credit, the Michigan ACLU has publicly sided with Jones on the constitutional question.