• July 17, 2021

City Announces Cancellation of “America First” Rally in Private Venue, Claims Security Threats + “Values” – Reason.com

From the city of Anaheim Twitter feed:

The rally would have featured representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, according to this City news service story.

Now, a private venue does not violate the First Amendment by canceling a demonstration based on “public safety concerns.” (Cancellation can be a breach of contract, depending on whether the contract has a provision for that.) And it is generally not a violation of the First Amendment for government officials to simply try to persuade private parties not to participate in the distribution of certain types of speech (see, for example, Hammerhead Enterprises, Inc. v. Brezenoff (2nd Cir. 1983), Penthouse Int’l Ltd. v. Meese (DC Cir. 1991), Y X-Men Security, Inc vs. Pataki (2nd Cir. 1999)).

But when the government tries to coerce private entities to suppress speech, that may well violate the First Amendment rights of speakers (see, for example, Rattner vs. Netburn (2nd Cir. 1991), Okwedy vs. Molinari (2nd Cir. 2003), Y Backpage, Inc. v. Dart (Seventh Cir. 2015)). So the questions are: when a city “shares[s] public safety concerns “about a speech in a private place, and then publicly announces the cancellation of the event with the statement:” As a city, we respect freedom of expression, but we also have a duty to draw attention that does not reflect our city and its values, “

  1. Do you think there was probably some coercive pressure exerted by the city against the place?
  2. If this had been, say, a socialist rally that was canceled with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, with the same public statement, what would your inference be?
  3. Let’s say the city of Anaheim had simply relayed information about threats against the speakers or the venue – that is, concrete “public safety concerns” rather than just abstract ones. In fact, let’s say you even gave the venue the assurance that of course you would do everything possible to protect the rally, as opposed to the speech being “to” our city and its values, “if the venue continued to host the event. (I have no idea if such guarantees were offered.) Do you think this type of reaction from the city is likely to foster future threats of violence against future controversial speeches, discourage them, or have no effect?

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