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Birmingham settles ACLU lawsuit with new First Amendment policy

The city of Birmingham has settled a federal lawsuit by adopting a new free speech policy.

The Michigan ACLU sued the city after animal rights protesters were arrested last year.

Protesters with the Southwest Michigan Animal Rights Team (SMART) were holding signs and passing out literature outside a Birmingham fur store in December 2012.

Police told the protesters they had to “keep moving” in order to be there. When one protester questioned the officers, she was arrested and charged with loitering.

But ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin said that policy simply doesn’t exist anywhere in the law. “Under the first amendment, there is no requirement that someone keep moving on a public sidewalk in order to exercise their first amendment rights,” Korobkin said.

Korobkin said protesters must be allowed to use public sidewalks, so long as they don’t block anybody’s way. He said security video footage shows the SMART protesters weren’t doing that.

Birmingham has now agreed to settle the lawsuit with a new policy that clarifies first amendment rights in public spaces, something Korobkin called “a solid step forward for civil liberties.”

“And they’ve agreed to train their police officers about this new policy, and remind them to make sure that the first amendment is adhered to whenever someone is out on the sidewalks of Birmingham,” Korobkin said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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