July 10, 2018

State agency Scrooge violates Santa’s First Amendment rights

Olympia, Washington; July 10, 2018: Booting Santa Claus from the lobby of a government building is not only bad optics, it’s unconstitutional according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the Washington-based Freedom Foundation.

The suit against Washington State Department of Ecology stemmed from an incident in December 2017 when the agency kicked a Freedom Foundation employee out of its lobby. The staffer—dressed as Santa—was handing out leaflets that explain state employees’ right to opt out of union dues when he was told the lobby is not a public forum and ordered to leave.

Weeks earlier, however, the agency let Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) hold a membership drive in the lobby to promote political causes.

“Since we started our holiday tradition, we’ve delivered valuable gifts of information in numerous state buildings,” said Matthew Hayward, Outreach Director for Freedom Foundation. “The Department of Ecology is the only agency that thinks it can pick and choose which viewpoints it allows in its building.”

Freedom Foundation’s lawsuit filed in the federal court for the Western District of Washington argues that public officials cannot suppress expression just because they don’t agree with a viewpoint.

“The First Amendment doesn’t take a holiday when a speaker steps onto public property,” said PLF attorney Ethan Blevins. “Like Santa, the Constitution knows if you’ve been bad or good. We’re just reminding the Department of Ecology to be good for goodness sake.”

PLF represents Freedom Foundation in Freedom Foundation v. Washington State Department of Ecology.

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