The animal rights advocates were charged with criminal trespass, handcuffed and jailed for refusing to give up their right to free speech in a public park. They were showing a television screen playing excerpts from a documentary about the mistreatment of animals, and only spoke to people who engaged with them. Park management and security claimed that passers-by could be 'offended' by their message.
KATIE KORTEPETER: The Law & Religion Clinic at the University of Texas and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, several Houston police officers, and Discovery Green Conservancy after police officers arrested an animal rights advocate for refusing to give up his First Amendment right to free speech in Discovery Green, a public park described as the “crown jewel of public spaces in downtown Houston.”
The management of Houston’s public Discovery Green Park was concerned that passers-by might be “offended” by the advocates’ message. The officers’ actions were a clear violation of the advocates’ First Amendment right to speak freely in a public park —a park where peaceful protests happen regularly.
“It’s highly hypocritical and discriminatory to allow certain groups to exercise free speech but not us,” said Daraius Dubash, the animal rights advocate who was arrested. “We’re seeking a ruling affirming that no one — whether the police or park management — can ban people from peaceful expression in a public park like Discovery Green”.
Dubash and his fellow advocate Dr. Faraz Harsini are both immigrants who are passionate about animal rights… Several times during summer 2022, Dubash and Harsini went to Discovery Green to host a series of educational events. They held a television screen playing excerpts from a documentary about the mistreatment of animals, and they only spoke to people who engaged with them.
However, almost every time they demonstrated, park management and security asked them to leave, claiming that passers-by could be “offended” by their message. And so they complied. But the last time, Daraius stood his ground, calmly explaining to park management and security, “You still have to abide by the First Amendment because [the park] is publicly owned.” The park management’s response? “Right. But we also choose, [and] we don’t feel the content is appropriate.”
When two Houston police officers arrived, Daraius again calmly explained his First Amendment rights. Yet the officers still arrested Daraius and handcuffed him in a chair in the park security office for more than two hours until he was taken to the county jail and charged with criminal trespass. The district attorney dismissed the charge.
“No one should be handcuffed and detained for exercising his First Amendment rights,” said FIRE attorney JT Morris. “We’re suing because public parks belong to all Americans and their expressive rights, not the personal views of a few.”
The lawsuit seeks to vindicate Harsini and Dubash’s constitutional right to share their beliefs freely in a public space. It asks the court to prohibit the city and Discovery Green Conservancy from interfering with Harsini and Dubash’s peaceful advocacy at the park…
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty. SOURCE…