Victory for Free Speech at the Capitol

A strong victory was awarded today to dozens of Capitol protesters who received warnings banning them from the legislative campus after demonstrating their opposition to $2 billion in proposed state budget cuts.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the Washington State Patrol from issuing trespass warnings that ban individuals from the Capitol Campus and from arresting individuals solely for violation of a trespass warning. This temporary injunction is in place immediately until another hearing is held on January 5.

The court order temporarily overturned the bans because: “The restrictions…involve the First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly; freedom of speech, and freedom of the press; there is no [legal or administrative] authority… for this broad-based prior restraint; the restrictions are not reasonable as to time, place or manner…; and the restrictions are not narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.”

Helen Gilbert, an activist with Radical Women and a co-founder of Sisters Organize for Survival, was one of 30 protesters who received a 30-day ban from the Capitol on the evening of Monday, November 28. She and others had gathered in the Rotunda to protest state budget cuts and demand that rich corporations and individuals be taxed to solve the budget crisis. The following day, she returned to the capitol with several hundred other anti-budget cuts activists to continue the protests. For returning to the capitol, Gilbert and ten others were arrested, handcuffed, jailed, and charged with Criminal Trespassing in the First Degree. In addition, their ban from the Capitol was extended to one year.

Says Gilbert, “This ruling, though temporary, is a wonderful vindication that the Capitol should be a free-speech zone. Governor Gregoire tried to intimidate protest and silence our message by banning us from the premises during the whole length of the legislative session and beyond. She tried to gag us for exposing the fact that these cuts are not necessary if lawmakers would tax the 1%, rather than stealing from the needy!”

Kristin Moon, an Occupy Seattle activist with the Gender Equality Caucus, was arrested with Gilbert. In her view: “I was in the rotunda to peacefully assemble and exercise my free speech to demand a stop to budget cuts that disproportionately affect people of color, elders and the poor. Just because the State Patrol said the doors close at 5:30pm, doesn’t mean the suffering stops at 5:30pm — so we decided to stay. After this ruling, you can be sure I’ll be back in Olympia to continue to speak out on these issues!”

The class action complaint was brought by Mark Taylor-Canfield who was represented by Seattle attorneys Ben Gould, Harry Williams and Gretchen Obrist. Taylor-Canfield, a reporter with the Occupy Seattle Media Working Group, says, “This is a great victory for the First Amendment and constitutional rights. We were deprived of our rights and penalized without due process. That’s why I wanted to bring this suit.”

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Statement by: Radical Women
5018 Rainier Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98118

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