In America, public parks and sidewalks are quintessential places for free expression. That’s why the First Amendment so strongly protects speech in both. And that’s why government officials and those they contract to manage public parks cannot censor Americans who use those spaces to share a message, no matter their view.
Yet at Houston’s Discovery Green, a bustling public park in Downtown Houston, City police and park management have taken a different–and unconstitutional–view against two animal-rights advocates who simply want to educate the public on their views.
Darius Dubash and Faraz Harsini are passionate about animal welfare, hoping to educate and persuade others to consider their own views about things like industrial farming. So like countless other Americans, they take to public parks to spread their message, peacefully showing documentary footage of industrial animal practices on hand-held monitors. If a passerby is interested in the footage, they’ll talk with them. If the passerby isn’t, they don’t. Peaceful advocacy like theirs–including on subjects some might find disturbing–lies at the First Amendment’s core.
But instead of respecting Daraius’s and Faraz’s First Amendment rights, the City of Houston, the Downtown Houston Park Corporation, and Discovery Green Conservancy–a group that runs Discovery Green park for the City’s benefit–trampled those rights. Three different times, Daraius and Faraz tried to share their message at Discovery Green. Each time, park staff and Houston police kicked them out, despite allowing other groups to demonstrate in Discovery Green over recent years.
And the last time Daraius and Faraz tried to peacefully advocate at Discovery Green? Houston police threw him in handcuffs, just because Discovery Green Conservancy’s management thought the documentary footage was “offensive.” Their message to Darius and Faraz remains clear: Change your message at Discovery Green, or else.
So Daraius and Faraz are suing with FIRE’s help to send a clear message back: Public parks and free expression belong to the people, not the personal views of the management. The lawsuit, filed by FIRE and the Law and Religion Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, seeks damages, an injunction, and a declaratory judgment that will help secure the rights of everyone to express themselves at Discovery Green as the First Amendment promises.