Free speech zones

Of all the dumb, unconstitutional ideas elected officials keep recycling, the concept of “free speech zones” might be the worst of the lot.

Nevertheless, the Las Vegas City Council is prepared to launch another attack on the Bill of Rights today in its failed campaign to suppress expression along downtown’s Fremont Street Experience.

If engaging in protected speech on one side of a painted line is deemed OK by the government, but doing the same thing on the other side of the line is a crime, then speech really isn’t free at all, is it?

The council wants to keep leafleting, soliciting and speechifying — not to mention the homeless and downtrodden — outside the attraction’s canopy and pedestrian mall, where the biggest crowds circulate.

Time and again since 1997, the courts have declared the Fremont Street Experience a public forum. But city and Fremont Street Experience officials seem to think making the same failed arguments justifying the regulation of speech, year after year, is some sort of game.

“This is something that has already been determined by the courts,” Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said last week. “If it’s introduced and it’s passed, then we will once again fight it, and you see how well the city has fared trying to close Fremont Street to free expression. It is a total waste of taxpayer money and time.”

Exactly. The council should scrap the proposal at once. Or is the city so flush with taxpayer cash, in this economy, that it can afford the legal fees for yet another doomed appeal?

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