Free Expression - On July 8, 2011, the ACLU of Utah and cooperating attorneys Brian M. Barnard and Stewart Gollan of the Utah Legal Clinic filed an amended complaint on behalf of iMatter Utah. iMatter Utah is challenging as unconstitutional the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) requirements that event organizers, such as iMatter Utah, obtain large liability insurance policies and collect releases of liability from all event participants prior to the staging of any event or protest on UDOT property.
iMatter Utah v. Utah Department of Transportation (2013)
iMatter Utah is a volunteer organization comprised primarily of students, that works to promote public discussion and education on the issue of climate change. iMatter Utah has no organizational funding or fundraising ability, and thus cannot afford to pay the high insurance premium prices necessary in order to hold an event on UDOT property. Salt Lake City makes exceptions for events held by groups such as iMatter Utah that have no fundraising ability, however, UDOT makes no such exceptions. UDOT’s stringent liability requirements have made it effectively impossible for iMatter Utah to hold any events on UDOT property, thus violating iMatter Utah members’ First Amendment rights to free speech and expression. The complaint was amended to reflect iMatter Utah’s desire to host an event partially on UDOT property on September 24, 2011 and the inability to do so because of UDOT’s liability requirements. On November 4, 2013, the court in Utah struck down as unconstitutional UDOT’s insurance and indemnification requirements for groups and individuals seeking permits to march on state highways.
Federal Court Rules UDOT Free Speech Policies Unconstitutional, Strikes Down Insurance and Indemnification Requirements for March Permits
ACLU OF UTAH SUES UTAH DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION OVER UNCONSTITUTIONAL RESTRICTIONS ON FREE SPEECH EVENTS
May 2, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY—Earlier today, the ACLU of Utah and cooperating attorneys Brian M. Barnard and Stewart Gollan of the Utah Legal Clinic sued the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) over its attempt to impose unconstitutional restrictions on free speech events on State Street in Salt Lake City. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of members and supporters of iMatter Utah, a local youth-driven organization that works to foster public discussion of climate change and its effects on fundamental human rights.
Members of iMatter Utah are organizing a parade and march—or “Marade”—for Saturday, May 7. Between 50-100 people are expected to attend. The May 7 Marade is intended to raise public awareness of issues relating to climate change by marching from the federal building at 125 South State Street to Library Square. Because that section of State Street is part of Utah State Highway 89, organizers were required to obtain permits not just from Salt Lake City but also from UDOT.
Although the City was willing to issue a “free expression” permit covering the May 7 Marade, UDOT insisted that iMatter Utah obtain a large liability insurance policy that could have cost iMatter Utah over $2,500. UDOT also insisted that iMatter Utah obtain advance waivers and releases from each and every participant in the May 7 Marade, and that iMatter Utah certify that it had done so weeks in advance of the event.
“UDOT’s advance waiver and certification requirements might make some sense in the context of a traditional parade, like the St. Patrick’s Day or Days of ’47 parades, where the floats and participants are known weeks or months in advance,” said ACLU of Utah Legal Director Darcy Goddard. “But the May 7 Marade is a political rally that is likely—and should be allowed—to attract additional participants at the last minute. UDOT’s mandate that iMatter Utah must know weeks in advance each and every person who will attend renders compliance by iMatter Utah, or any group organizing a political protest or rally in response to world events, functionally impossible.”
Today’s lawsuit challenges as unconstitutional: (i) UDOT’s requirement that unfunded groups wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and to freedom of speech must obtain expensive liability insurance policies; (ii) UDOT’s requirement that all event participants must sign waivers and releases, weeks in advance, as a pre-condition to exercising their First Amendment rights; and (iii) UDOT’s requirement that event organizers must certify, weeks in advance, that all participants have signed UDOT’s waivers and releases.
“Salt Lake City recognized that we were trying to raise the volume on climate change conversations, and so it granted us the ‘free expression’ permit to march,” said iMatter member and event coordinator Lauren Wood. “UDOT took another view. Marching on State Street, within view of the State Capitol and on the road that leads directly to State officials, is symbolic. UDOT‘s requirements would make it impossible for an unfunded, youth-driven group like iMatter Utah to ever assemble and exercise its free speech rights on State Street itself.”
Adds iMatter Utah member and local high school student Sara Ma, “I first got involved in rallies like this because I saw one while I was riding on Trax one day. I got off at the next stop and joined in. iMatter Utah’s hope is to educate youth so we know how to participate in important conversations about climate change and human rights. My friends, and anyone else who is interested, should have the same right and ability to participate as I did that day on Trax.”
To learn more about iMatter Utah or the May 7 Marade, go to www.imattermarchutah.org.