Suit Challenges Newark’s Insurance Requirement for Demonstrators

By | February 25, 2008

A three-year-old court order has failed to stop Newark, N.J. from charging people who wish to engage in free speech, according to a lawsuit filed against the city.

The lawsuit charged that Newark is violating an order that bars it from requiring demonstrators to obtain a $1 million insurance policy before being issued a permit. The city consented to the order, issued in December 2004.

“We just want people to have the right to protest in Newark without facing unconstitutional barriers,” said Bennet D. Zurofsky, a volunteer lawyer for the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of an activist group, the Peoples Organization for Progress.

“We’re tired of going round and round on this; the city needs to take free speech rights seriously, fix their forms and train their staff,” Zurofsky said.

Newark spokeswoman Esmeralda Cameron said the city “is in full compliance with all applicable free speech requirements.”

The ACLU said the city’s permit application retains the insurance requirement and that clerks are not aware that insurance is not required for free speech actions. As a result, the ACLU has repeatedly come to the aid of applicants after their permits were delayed or denied, the group said.

“It’s frustrating to see free speech rights disregarded by the city,” said Ed Barocas, legal director for the state ACLU. “Instead of wasting time and money to keep an unconstitutional policy in place, Newark should encourage free speech activities in the city.”

The lawsuit is the third action the ACLU has taken against Newark regarding First Amendment rights in the past month.

On Jan. 30, it sought to join a lawsuit filed by a city police officer suspended after posting anonymous comments critical of his superiors on a Web site. And on Jan. 23 it sued on behalf of the editor of the Newark-based Brazilian Voice newspaper who claimed that police arrested him in an effort to keep him from publishing photographs from a crime scene.

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