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Lawsuit challenges free-expression restriction at airport

January 24, 2011

A Fort Wayne man is suing the Allen County Airport Authority because he claims a recently enacted resolution severely restricts his ability to protest the new screening procedures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the suit Jan. 20 on behalf of Paul Anthony Stanton in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana’s Fort Wayne Division. Stanton, a U.S. Army combat veteran, wants to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution and other materials to travelers and passers-by in the Fort Wayne International Airport. But he claims a resolution enacted by the Fort Wayne – Allen County Airport Authority in November 2010 violates his and others’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

The resolution requires anyone who wants to distribute literature or solicit support at the airport to do so in a specific spot outside the airport terminal. Those who want to protest or hand out material must do so in the “free speech zone” only and must apply for a permit at least seven days before the planned activity. The application also has to disclose the content of the person’s speech. The executive director of the airport authority determines whether to approve a permit application.

Stanton wants to be able to hand out the literature inside the airport and believes that being regulated to the “free speech zone” will cause him to be missed by most people. He does not see being required to remain outside in the winter as a suitable alternative.

He also is concerned his permit application may be denied because he wants to protest the new airport screening measures. The suit alleges the resolution violates the First Amendment for several reasons, including that it's unconstitutionally broad, requires a group or person to disclose the subject matter of the proposed activity prior to engaging in it, and allows for the executive director to exercise “unbridled discretion” in deciding whether to deny or approve an application.

The suit, Paul Anthony Stanton v. Fort Wayne – Allen County Airport Authority, et al., No. 1:11-CV-30, seeks a preliminary injunction and permanent injunction preventing the airport authority from enforcing the resolution.

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