Originally created 05/05/04

Activist, ACLU sue over laws regulating protests



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A community activist and the ACLU are asking a federal judge to strike down Brunswick and Glynn County ordinances regulating protests during the G-8 Summit next month.

The Rev. Zack Lyde, of Brunswick, filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick against both the city and county. The lawsuit challenges recently enacted city and county laws that require permits and place other restrictions on public gatherings involving groups of six or more people, and on related activities such as handing out leaflets.

Attorneys for the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union are representing the Rev. Lyde in the lawsuit.

The Rev. Lyde said the ordinances illegally restrict free speech and deny people the right to assemble.

"The permit requirements are a burden on free expression in a public forum and a prior restraint" on free speech, the Rev. Lyde said in the lawsuit.

He is asking a federal judge to strike down the ordinances as unconstitutional. In addition, the Rev. Lyde wants a judge to issue a permanent injunction forbidding the city and county from enforcing the ordinances, according to the lawsuit.

If granted, those measures would clear the way for peaceful demonstrations and other G-8 protest activities, such as music, dramatic performances, exhibits or distribution of leaflets.

No date has been set for a hearing in the case, federal court officials said.

"We are trying to get to court as quickly as possible on this," said Gerry Weber, the legal director for the Georgia chapter of the ACLU.

The lawsuit could have a ripple effect extending to Savannah and other communities that enacted almost identical ordinances in preparation for the June 8-10 summit.

Mr. Weber said the lawsuit comes in the wake of Glynn County's refusal to issue the Rev. Lyde a permit for peaceful activities voicing alternative views to those gathering at Sea Island for the summit.

The Rev. Lyde could not be reached for comment. But Mr. Weber said the city and county ordinances also are designed to make it almost impossible for people to qualify for a permit.

"We feel like we really were given no other choice but to file the lawsuit," Mr. Weber said.

Brunswick Mayor Brad Brown said that because he hadn't seen the lawsuit, he couldn't comment specifically on the case.

The Rev. Lyde's lawsuit comes 18 days after a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down similar protest laws in Augusta.

In that case, the ACLU successfully sued on behalf of women's rights activist Martha Burk, who last year challenged Augusta's restrictions on protests aimed at Augusta National Golf Club.