Arab Christian Group Partly Wins Its Lawsuit Over Anti-Leafleting Rule at Arab International Festival on Dearborn (Michigan) City Property

This is the story I blogged about last year; the latest is this Sixth Circuit decision from Thursday, June 17, Saieg v. City of Dearborn:

George Saieg is a minister whose religious practice includes proclaiming Christian beliefs to Muslims. Saieg wants to distribute religious leaflets at the 15th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival (“Festival”) to be held on June 18, 19, and 20, 2010. The Festival rules and policies prohibit leafleting on certain streets and permit the distribution of literature only from approved booths and information tables. In 2009, shortly before the commencement of the Festival, Saieg brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the city of Dearborn and its Chief of Police, charged with enforcing the Festival policies and providing other support. The district court denied Saieg’s request for a temporary restraining order. At the 2009 Festival, Saieg distributed his literature from a booth provided to him at no charge. In the ensuing year, Saieg and the defendants engaged in discovery and filed cross motions for summary judgment. Saieg also moved for injunctive relief against the enforcement of the leafleting policy at the 2010 Festival. The district court denied Saieg’s motion for an injunction and granted summary judgment to the defendants. Saieg appeals. He moves this court for expedited review and reversal of the district court’s order or, alternatively, for an injunction pending appeal….

[W]e note that the district court concluded that because of the nature and size of the Festival, as well as the necessary street closures, the public streets were not serving in their usual capacity. This reasoning finds support in Heffron v. Int’l Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness, 452 U.S. 640 (1981), and Spignola v. Village of Granville, 39 F. App’x 978 (6th Cir. 2002). See also Hynes v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County, 667 F.2d 549 (6th Cir. 1982). While these cases may support the restriction of leaflet distribution among the crowds within the core area of the Festival, they do not appear to preclude similar activity in the “outer perimeter” or “buffer zone” leading up to the core area. Otherwise content-neutral restrictions must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest ….” Given the issues presented by this appeal, we conclude that temporary injunctive relief is appropriate.

Therefore, the motion for an injunction pending appeal is GRANTED as follows. The relief granted hereby pertains only to the Festival to be held June 18, 19, and 20, 2010, after which this order will be deemed to have expired. During the hours that the Festival is open to the public on June 18, 19, and 20, 2010, Saieg shall be permitted to distribute his religious literature in the streets contained within the area referred to as the “outer perimeter” or “buffer zone.” This order leaves undisturbed the ability of the defendants to prohibit Saieg from distributing his religious literature within the Festival itself. See Heffron.

The district court decision is here. The district court found that the ban was content-neutral, in that it didn’t single out either the Christian speakers or political/religious speakers generally for specially poor treatment, but applied to all leafletting; and the court held that the provision that neighboring businesses could set up sidewalk sales in front of the business was not content-based: “[If plaintiff] had an existing office located in the inner perimeter along Warren Avenue, there is nothing in the record to suggest that it could not set up a table outside its office like everyone else occupying space along Warren Avenue. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that the criterion to set up a sidewalk sale along Warren Avenue has anything to do with the message of the occupant, or the subject matter of the occupant’s speech (i.e., commercial versus non-commercial); rather, the criterion is that the occupant simply occupy space in the inner perimeter along Warren Avenue.” The court of appeals did not disturb this conclusion.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

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