St. Louis Public Radio News
6:56 pm
Thu February 4, 2010

Court strikes down law banning leafleting

St. Louis, MO – St. Louis City's anti-leafleting ordinance was struck down by a federal court on Thursday.

A suit was filed last December by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri on behalf of a local non-profit political group.

One of the group's members was arrested for distributing hand-bills on cars.

Tony Rothert, the ACLU's Legal Director says in the past the city has used the ordinance selectively to quash political viewpoints it doesn't agree with. Hand bills, he says are a vital part of free speech.

"It's a lot a cheaper to go place leaflets on a car," notes Rothert, "and it probably affects grass roots organizations a lot more than it does large political groups or politicians with lots of money who can afford to buy a radio or television piece."

The hand-bill ordinance had been in place since 1974. But, Mayor Francis Slay's Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford says City Hall has never used the law to silence political opinion.

"We probably have an old ordinance somewhere that says you can't spit on sidewalks," said Rainford. "The Mayor does know one thing and has always known one thing and that is in this country, even when we disagree people's first amendment rights to free speech, especially when it comes to political speech is inviolate."

Today's leafleting ruling will apply to both commercial and non-commercial organizations