INDIANAPOLIS - The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana praised a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirming that Tippecanoe County violated the First Amendment when it denied a marijuana legalization group permission to hold a rally on the courthouse grounds in Lafayette. The ACLU of Indiana brought the lawsuit on behalf of Higher Society of Indiana, Inc., an organization that advocates and rallies for the legalization of marijuana.
Under the ruling, which affirms the district court's opinion, Tippecanoe County is blocked from enforcing its policy of only allowing events on courthouse grounds that comport with the county's views.
"The freedom of speech is a pillar of our democracy and a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment," said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana Legal Director. "Tippecanoe County's policy of allowing certain groups to rally on courthouse grounds while silencing others is a clear violation of the First Amendment. This ruling is a victory for free speech, and for the rights of all citizens to make their voices heard."
In its opinion, the court concluded that "because the County's policy restricts private speech and it is not viewpoint-neutral, it violates the First Amendment. Higher Society was entitled to a preliminary injunction. We affirm the district court's well-reasoned opinion."
"Government officials can't stop people from speaking just because they don't like what's being said," said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana Executive Director. "As we have for nearly 100 years, the ACLU will continue to challenge unconstitutional restrictions on free speech and defend the right of all Americans to speak their minds."
In May 2016, Higher Society held a rally on courthouse property, but was denied the ability to return 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. In December, the ACLU won a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, which the county then appealed.