A federal lawsuit claims a Branch County tea party group was denied the right to display banners and signs at a tea party rally at a public park in Coldwater because it was “too political” and “too controversial.” The Coldwater City Council then passed a resolution banning all banners and signs in that park.
The Thomas More Law Center law firm filed its lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Attorney Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center alleged that Coldwater City Manager Jeff Budd objected because the Common Sense Patriots of Branch County were “too political” and “too controversial.”
Budd didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Heather Peet was the only person of the nine-member City Council to respond to an email seeking comment. She referred questions to John Hutchinson, the city’s legal counsel. Hutchinson didn’t respond to a phone message left at his law office or an email.
In a Nov. 2 memo to the City Council, Budd stated the “administrative headaches” of increased requests to have banners in the park led the city to either “allow all banners or no banners.”
Barb Brady, a member of the Common Sense Patriots of Branch County and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, referred questions to the Thomas More Law Center.
According to the lawsuit, the Common Sense Patriots had held five rallies at the Four Corners Park. Muise said to regulate speech at a traditional public forum such as a city park, regulations must be precise. He said the ban of all signs and banners is too broad.
“Instead of using a scalpel, they used a sledgehammer,” Muise said. “They didn’t mind when they had people put up banners for some innocuous event, but when the tea party put up their sign, they said, ‘Wait a minute. This is too controversial.’ ”
“There is a problem when you ban everything in a traditional public forum.”