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In San Antonio, Texas, Free Speech Lawsuit gets its day in Court




In Dallas, Texas, there is no cost for a "political" parade. Or in Austin. Or in Houston - for the first fifteen intersections. Political marchers aren't charged in Los Angeles or in New York City for taking to the streets.
But San Antonio, Texas is different. A new "Parade Ordinance" passed by the City Council on November 29, 2007, requires groups to pay thousands of dollars to march in the public streets. Though the sidewalks, the Ordinance says, are free.

In response, a coalition calling itself The International Woman's Day March Committee and the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.

The Injunction Hearing was held today in a packed courtroom at the Federal Courthouse by District Judge Xavier Rodriguez. After more than four hours of testimony and cross-examination of the Coalition's witnesses, Judge Rodriguez decided to postpone his ruling until February 8th. The diverse group of witnesses, including Nadine Saliba, an Arab-American activist and Lorinda Carr, a disabled veteran who uses a wheelchair, answered questions from the plaintiff's lawyer, Amy Kastely, regarding the arbitrary and discriminating schema for marching organizers and marchers. Sabila testified regarding the $3000 fee she was quoted for an estimated 200 Arab-American women marching on the streets, and Karr testified about the difficulty of using the city's cracked sidewalks in a wheelchair. Graciela Sanchez, one of the Coalition leaders, stated that an activist planning a March for Darfur was quoted a $12,000-$15,000 user's fee - because the group - consisting of five runners with torches - wanted to be on the streets.

"It's your message, so you should have to pay for it...It's just like renting a house," said Mayor Phil Hardberger in response to the lawsuit, as reported in the San Antonio Express-News on December 20th.

photo credits: Mia Kang, Esperanza Center

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