New Jersey suit seeks expansion
of free-speech protections
Associated Press, 30. Nov. 98
NEWARK, N.J. An environmental group on Nov. 24 sued a small mall in Passaic County, charging that its constitutional rights were violated when management barred members from distributing leaflets.
The lawsuit seeks to expand the protections on free-speech activities that were affirmed in a landmark 1994 decision by the state Supreme Court, said Frank Askin, a volunteer lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. That ruling applied to large, regional malls, but also said that any mall allowing some activists to distribute brochures cannot exclude others, Askin said.
"In the last election, all the politicians were in there, handing out their literature," said Askin, a professor at Rutgers Law School in Newark.
The ACLU filed the complaint against the Fieldstone Park shopping mall in Ringwood on behalf of Skylands CLEAN in state Superior Court in Paterson.
No one at the mall was immediately able to comment, said a person at the management office.
The mall, operated by Azarian Management and Development Co., began restricting and then banned Skylands CLEAN after it opposed a sewer referendum in 1994, said Joanne Atlas Kahn, a member of the group’s executive board.
"Everyone else in the community is allowed to distribute literature, collect petition signatures, fund-raise, and approach shoppers," Atlas Kahn said. "The management’s actions are selective, discriminatory and arbitrary. Because they disagree with us they are denying us a fundamental constitutional right."
The state Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that several shopping malls had violated free-speech rights when they prevented a group of peace activists from distributing leaflets urging members of Congress to oppose the buildup to the Gulf War.
The state’s highest court said shopping malls constitute a modern-day Main Street and must allow groups to hand out brochures on political and social issues.
The lawsuit against Fieldstone Park asserts that Ringwood is relatively isolated in the Ramapo Mountains and has no central business district, thereby making the mall the primary community gathering place.