A group advocating for the legalization of marijuana that was denied permission to rally on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in Lafayette has filed a federal lawsuit claiming a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana announced Thursday a suit filed on behalf of Higher Society of Indiana Inc., which advocates and rallies for the legalization of marijuana. In May, Higher Society held a four-hour rally on courthouse property attended by 50 to 60 people, the suit says, but has now been denied access to the public space because of a “closed forum” policy that allows county commissioners individually and as a whole to determine which favored groups have access and which do not. The Tippecanoe County Courthouse has been the site of a number of events and rallies, from an annual art fair to a rally for Planned Parenthood. The lawsuit seeks to stop enforcement of the policy.
The group sought to stage a rally at the courthouse on June 17, but because no county commissioners agreed to “sponsor” the event, permission was denied.
“The First Amendment simply denies government the power to pick and choose which groups it allows to gather on public property,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “You cannot suppress some speech without putting all speech at risk.”
The suit claims “The failure of the Commissioners to allow Higher Society to rally and meet on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse is not reasonable and represents viewpoint discrimination.” The suit seeks an injunction to block the commissioners from enforcing its policy requiring sponsorship and approval for events at the courthouse.
“Higher Society of Indiana was saddened to hear of this rule put in place by Tippecanoe county officials. We believe this rule requiring ‘commissioner sponsorship’ in order to assemble on courthouse grounds is a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution,” said David Phipps, co-director of the organization. “The only thing this rule accomplishes is the censorship of the American people. It prevents any group the county does not approve of from speaking out and practicing their right to assemble. That being said, our organization still has faith that justice will prevail. Not just for this organization, but for every Hoosier that wishes to freely practice the rights given to us all.”
Tippecanoe County Commissioners did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The case, Higher Society of Indiana, Inc. v. Tippecanoe County, 4:16-cv-00043, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division at Lafayette.