Table of Contents

After FIRE’s intervention, Florida city ditches unconstitutional restrictions on political protests

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Residents of Belleair Beach in Florida can now gather on public property for “political” events — even if the group is larger than nine people.

FIRE wrote the Belleair Beach city council last March concerning its now-repealed ordinance banning “commercial, political, or organized” events of 10 or more people on public property. In other words, the law closed off all the city’s public spaces — parks, plazas, streets, sidewalks — to even relatively small political protests, rallies, and similar events. And gatherings of at least 10 people that weren’t “commercial, political, or organized” (how often are gatherings not “organized”?) required a permit.

FIRE’s letter to the city council explained that the “First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech, free assembly, and free association do not disappear when a group of speakers exceeds nine people,” and that the ordinance departed from “our nation’s cherished tradition of citizens taking to streets, sidewalks, and parks to make their voices heard on issues of public concern.”

Protestor in Tampa Bay speak during a protest in front of the Florida Historic Capitol

Florida city bans ‘political’ events of 10-plus people in all parks, streets, and sidewalks


The city of Belleair Beach recently passed an ordinance prohibiting political expression on any public property by groups of 10 or more people.

Read More

To the city’s credit, it quickly responded to our letter and pledged to amend the ordinance to eliminate its unconstitutional flaws. Over the next several months, FIRE and Belleair Beach worked together on a new ordinance that protects citizens’ First Amendment rights while promoting the city’s interest in reasonably regulating the time, place, and manner of speech on public property. 

The new ordinance, enacted in November, requires a permit for events that obstruct traffic, entail construction, involve exclusive use of public property, or include at least 50 people. In line with the First Amendment, the ordinance obligates the city to evaluate permit applications for expressive events without regard to the speech’s content or viewpoint, and spontaneous demonstrations do not need a permit. The ordinance also prohibits the city from enforcing an unconstitutional “heckler’s veto” by requiring it to “make bona fide efforts to protect event organizers and participants from violence, true threats, and other forms of unlawful interference to enable events to proceed.”

FIRE applauds the City of Belleair Beach for taking its constitutional obligations seriously and working with us to protect its citizens’ First Amendment rights.

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.