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SPJ joins amicus brief urging Court to restrict government from punishing speakers in designated fora



David Cuillier, SPJ President, 520-248-6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, ekobe@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has signed on to an amicus brief written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that encourages the Supreme Court to make a decision consistent with the First Amendment that speech in streets, parks and sidewalks be available to the public to assemble, communicate and discuss public questions.

John Apel, the defendant in U.S. v. Apel, was convicted for peacefully practicing his First Amendment rights in a designated protest area outside the main gain of Vandenberg Air Force Base. He was arrested and charged with three violations 18 U.S.C. § 1382, a statute that prohibits anyone from reentering a military installation after previously being removed and ordered not to return, even though Apel was protesting in a public space. Apel was then convicted over objections that the First Amendment prohibits enforcing Section 1382 in the Vandenberg designated protest area.

The brief before the U.S. Supreme Court asks the Court to uphold its First Amendment jurisprudence giving broad scope to the public forum doctrine, which dictates places to which the public and the media have access. This is of critical importance to newsgathering because journalists often gather news and interview sources in such public areas outside government buildings and land and must be able to continue to do so without government interference.

“Journalists have had dif¬ficulty gaining access to areas near courthouses in order to report news, despite the fact that such areas generally permit public access. And the press repeat¬edly has been forced to reassert the right to exit poll in public fora like sidewalks and byways around voting pre-cincts,” the brief says. “If the Court were to find that [Apel] may be barred from Vandenberg Air Force Base pursuant to Section 1382, Amici respectfully ask the Court to uphold the decision below under the First Amend¬ment. Amici submit that the government cannot be allowed to punish speakers for engaging in peaceful activities at places specifically designated for such endeavors.”
As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment. Most recently, SPJ joined briefs discouraging courtroom restrictions, encouraging the court to halt NSA telephone surveillance and encouraging the court to focus on statutory question in Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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