On Monday, April 8, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana filed a lawsuit challenging the 2018 arrest of environmental activist Luke Fontana.
Fontana was arrested during the 2018 French Quarter Festival after setting up an informational table about his organization in one of New Orleans’ “clean zones.” Fontana was injured during his arrest and spent 10 hours in jail.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana and asserts that the “clean zones” established by the city during certain events unconstitutionally restrict the right to free speech. The suit asks that the city’s “clean zone” ordinance (No 32,047) be declared unconstitutional and block the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) from enforcing it.
“Luke Fontana’s arrest is a textbook example of why the city’s so-called ‘clean zones’ have become more like ‘speech suppression zones’ for many members of the public,” said Katie Schwartzmann, legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana.
“The city’s poorly defined ordinance, combined with the NOPD’s heavy-handed and arbitrary enforcement, have had a chilling effect on citizens’ constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Expressing an opinion about a political cause in a public space should never, under any circumstances, land someone in jail. We’re suing to restore justice and defend the First Amendment rights of every New Orleanian.”
The charges against Fontana were later dropped. However, he fears that he may be subject to harassment and arrest should he attempt to exercise his First Amendment rights in one of the “clean zones” in the future.
This year’s French Quarter Festival begins on Thursday, April 11, and the city has again adopted a “clean zone” policy. According to the ACLU of Louisiana, Fontana intends to seek an emergency order from the court prohibiting the city from arresting him should the city refuse to agree to allow him to set up an informational table again this year, on the grounds that it would restrict his free speech under the First Amendment.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.