Carlsbad Responds to ACLU’S Free Speech Concerns

At last night’s city council meeting, Carlsbad councilmembers voted unanimously to clarify a vague ordinance on “decorum” at public meetings at the behest of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The council voted to eliminate a restriction against vulgar or profane speech.

“We are pleased that the Carlsbad City Council has amended the previously unconstitutional ordinance,” said Sarah Abshear, staff attorney for the San Diego ACLU. “This is a victory for free speech. The new ordinance makes it clear that only conduct that substantially disrupts the meetings will be cause for punishment, not pure speech or the words that a speaker uses.”

The San Diego ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in April, calling for a permanent injunction against enforcement of the city’s code that prohibited “vulgar, profane, loud or boisterous language” at council meetings. A victim of the code’s enforcement, Richard Shapiro, filed a lawsuit after being arrested after using terms that are considered profane.

At the time, David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU said, “Carlsbad city officials censored him because they did not like the words he used. That is ridiculous and unconstitutional. This is not Pleasantville. This is America.”

The ordinance passed last night says that any person who “by voice or conduct engages in loud, boisterous, or unruly behavior that substantially disrupts a council meeting, that does not comply with the rules of [sic] set forth in this chapter…and continues after the mayor has requested such person(s) to stop…” can be punished.

“It is possible that the council could misuse the ordinance as a justification for unconstitutional censorship,” Abshear said. “Of course we hope the Council will instead respect the First Amendment and continue moving in the right direction.”