Fort Worth nonprofits who are longtime or new users of the city’s downtown banner program will need to review its policy before applying in the future.
City council members voted to update the city’s vertical and overhead street banner policy during a council meeting Tuesday. The move comes just a week after city staff proposed suggestions to the policy during a city work session and while the city currently faces a First Amendment lawsuit from Metroplex Atheists, a North Texas nonprofit that applied to use the banner program and was denied.
“It is curious timing to me, that they may be trying to craft a policy to allow them in the future, at least, maybe not now, but in the future to be able to refuse groups like this, that are of marginal size and importance to them,” said Dale Carpenter, a professor of law at Southern Methodist University.
Julie Weston, social director and board member of Metroplex Atheists said she and other board members are also curious about the city’s timing in updating the policy.
“All of us are in agreement on this one that we feel like why would they feel the need to change the policy if we hadn’t rocked the boat the way we did?” Weston said. “Now the city of Fort Worth has basically shot themselves in the foot because we’ve got more magnitude and publicity because of them saying no.”
The city’s legal team responded with a statement saying that the city is aware of the lawsuit and has filed a response in court. The city objected to Metroplex Atheist’s request for a preliminary injunction and “the court found in the city’s favor. The city believes its banner policy is constitutional and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit.”
The updated policy doesn’t impact the lawsuit contesting the version of the policy that inspired the Metroplex Atheists to sue, said Matthew Furse, Glast Phillips & Murray PC lawyer representing Metroplex Atheists in the lawsuit. On Aug. 15 Judge Reed O’Connor with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ordered legal teams representing Metroplex Atheists and the city of Fort Worth to meet and file a joint report no later than Sept. 12. The report should include brief statements of claims and defenses, settlement negotiations and proposed time limits for the lawsuit.
Updates to the policy include a hold harmless agreement, which says that the city, its officers, employees and volunteers are not liable for any and all claims, injuries, damages, losses or lawsuits including attorney fees that come out of or are in connection with the applicant, according to the policy.
Additional updates to the policy include definitions such as defining an eligible nonprofit as one that primarily operates in Fort Worth or can provide proof that the organization’s work and activities occur in the city. Allowed usage of the banners includes events hosted or co-sponsored by the city, welcome messages, or promotion of educational institutions. Prohibited usage of banners includes, but is not limited to, messages with political or religious advertising or banners that would “constitute a hazard to traffic safety.”
Nick Fish is president of American Atheists, the national organization whose legal team is representing Metroplex Atheists in the lawsuit against the city. Updates to the banner policy reinforce the organization’s argument for displaying banners promoting its Aug. 26 event, Fish said.
“We have grave concerns about the way this new policy was adopted, the purported reasons for the change, and the way the city will implement it,” Fish said.
Source : KERANEWS