Last week, the City of Starkville, Mississippi voted 4-3 to ban Starkville Pride (an LGBT rights group) from holding a pride prade. The four aldermen who voted for this outcome censored the parade solely because they disagreed with the viewpoint and content of Starkville Pride's speech. This hostility to the parade's message was inextricably intertwined with animus toward LGBT people and pro-LGBT organizations. The City's decision thus evoked the core evil of the First Amendment: an exercise of governmental power to impose prior restraints on protected political speech in a public forum. Simply put, cities may not use their permit power to silence messages (or messengers) that they would prefer to banish from the marketplace of ideas. In addition, the City's animus-laden decision to forbid their parade violated the right of Starkville Pride and its leaders to the equal protection of the laws.
Accordingly, Roberta Kaplan, John Quinn, and I have sued the City of Starkville for violating Starkville Pride's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment. We have asked a federal judge to grant a preliminary injunction order the City to approve Starkville Pride's permit. Here is a copy of our motion for a preliminary injunction. And here is how we open the brief:
This case arises from an effort by the City of Starkville to ban people from speaking in a public forum because it disagrees with their message and disapproves of their sexual orientation. In July 2017, Plaintiff Starkville Pride and two of its leaders, Plaintiffs Bailey McDaniel and Emily Turner, decided to plan a parade. They wanted to celebrate the local LGBT community and send a message in support of equality and dignity for LGBT persons. Carefully adhering to all guidelines, Plaintiffs submitted a permit application to the City of Starkville. For most people who plan parades in Starkville, this process is straightforward: in virtually every prior instance for which detailed records are publicly available (a total of 88 permit applications from 2010 to 2018), the Board of Aldermen addressed the application without public comment or deliberation through a simple yes-or-no vote. And in every single past instance, the permit application was approved. But not here. Plaintiffs’ application was subjected to an irregular procedure that involved a closedsession meeting of the board, followed by public comment and deliberation among the Aldermen. Throughout this process, the only objections raised against Plaintiffs’ permit application were antiLGBT comments directed to the parade’s LGBT content and the pro-LGBT viewpoint that the parade would express. In other words, nobody raised any concerns related to logistics, security, or cost. Nevertheless, the Board voted four-to-three to deny Plaintiffs’ permit application. As a result, Plaintiffs do not have the requisite permit to hold their parade on March 24, 2018, as planned.
The Board’s decision to ban speech by Starkville Pride on city streets is a textbook violation of the First Amendment. “[A] government, including a municipal government vested with state authority, ‘has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.’” Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., 135 S. Ct. 2218, 2226 (2015) (citation omitted); see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 828 (1995) (“It is axiomatic that the government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys.”). Moreover, the Board’s discriminatory treatment of Plaintiffs—based solely on animus toward LGBT persons and groups that support their equal dignity—is squarely foreclosed by the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744, 770 (2013); Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633 (1996).
These constitutional violations require immediate injunctive relief. The City’s unconstitutional acts have caused—and are continuing to cause—irreparable injury to Plaintiffs. See, e.g., Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (“The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”); Serv. Employees Int’l Union v. City of Houston, No. 06-cv-3309, 2006 WL 3712940, at *7 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 2, 2006) (granting preliminary injunction against ordinance violating First Amendment rights of parade organizers). In contrast, the City has not identified any legitimate reason to believe that it would suffer harm if the parade were to occur as planned. If anything, the City (and the public at large) would benefit from granting Plaintiffs’ permit application—as the Mayor of Starkville and other community leaders have emphasized in statements responding to the Board’s illegal decision. See Alex Holloway, Pride Denied: Aldermen Shoot Down LGBT Parade Request, The Dispatch (Feb. 21, 2018 9:54 AM), http://ftp.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=64025&TRID=1&TID= (last accessed Feb. 25, 2018).
Accordingly, as explained in greater detail below, the Court should grant Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and order the City to grant Plaintiffs’ permit application.
You can learn more about the case here.