FREE SPEECH — The California Supreme Court today upheld a Los Angeles International
Airport ordinance barring Hare Krishnas from soliciting donations within
airport terminals, reports Will Buchanan for the Christian Science Monitor. They can speak about their beliefs inside, but not seek money.
This ruling is apparently the final defeat in 13-year legal effort
by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to
secure the right to solicit in LAX airport under the First Amendment.
But after two decades of legal challenges against similar measures in
other airports nationwide, it also points to the religious
organizations' narrowing legal options.
The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the LAX
restriction on solicitation is constitutional. The Hare Krishnas'
lawyer, David Liberman, told the Associated Press that this may be the
end of the legal line. Its pretty conclusive, and it doesnt
look like there are any loopholes, Mr. Liberman said. As far as I can
tell, its over.
The Hare Krishnas' legal trail has stretched
back over two decades. In 1992, ISKCON brought suit against New
York City airports claiming that a ban on solicitation in terminals
violated their First Amendment right to free speech. After winning in
district court and losing in circuit court, ISKCON lost its case in the
US Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the citys prohibition was
constitutional because an airport terminal is not a public forum.
Furthermore, wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist for the majority,
solicitation is disruptive in crowded, busy spaces and negatively
affects business there.
The ruling did not discuss the distribution of literature or the
solicitation on sidewalks outside the terminal proper. In 1999 the
Krishnas brought suit against Miami International Airports ban on
solicitation and the selling of literature anywhere in the vicinity of
The federal district court and appeals court ruled
against the Krishnas, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the
decision, leaving the Miami International Airports restriction and
similar restrictions across Florida, Alabama, and Georgia intact and
Most recently, the Krishnas tried again in California. A
federal judge ruled in their favor, but on appeal the US circuit court
referred the case to the California Supreme Court because the statute in
question was a state law rather than a federal law.
That was the
ruling handed down today. In California and some other states,
Krishnas may still distribute literature in airport terminals and
solicit donations outside on sidewalks.