A federal judge Monday afternoon ordered Tennessee to stop enforcing new rules that restricted “Occupy Nashville” demonstrators’ ability to protest in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN).
“The state cannot arbitrarily create restrictive policies just because it does not like how people are using a public space,” said ACLU-TN Legal Director Tricia Herzfeld. “Today’s decision is the first step in restoring demonstrators’ free speech rights.”
The protesters had been camped at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to protest the economic and political consolidation of power since October 9.
But on October 27, Tennessee enacted new rules without any public review process that eliminated their right to gather after 4:00 p.m. and implemented a 10:00 pm curfew on the plaza. The state also required protesters to pay use and security fees and to obtain $1,000,000 in liability insurance coverage prior to engaging in any assembly activity.
“We have a legitimate complaint that is supported by a majority of the American people that there is too much corruption in government,” said one protester, Buck Gorrell, in a statement. “We have a right to assemble to address those complaints. What more appropriate public space is there in Tennessee for that purpose than Legislative Plaza? The state government is imposing arbitrary barriers to our rights under the Constitution.”
The “Occupy Nashville” protesters defied the new rules, leading to arrests on Friday and Saturday mornings. The 50 people arrested, however, were released after Night Court Magistrate Tom Nelson refused to sign off on the arrest warrants.
The lawsuit (PDF) alleges that state illegally revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza by fiat in secret and without notice. The complaint also claims the state arrested protesters without probable cause and due process.
Tennessee did not oppose the motion for a temporary restraining order, which halts enforcement of the rules until a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for November 21.
“We hope the fact that the State did not contest the temporary restraining order means that it is recommitting itself to safeguarding — not thwarting — public political expression,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director.