Right to Life wants access

Lawyer argues group shouldn't be barred from trade show

Posted: Thursday, December 01, 2005

ANCHORAGE - An attorney for Alaska Right to Life said the group should not be barred from trade shows in public buildings because its message might offend people.

Ken Jacobus argued Tuesday in Superior Court that organizers of the Alaska Women's Show used that standard to keep the anti-abortion group out of the city-owned Sullivan Arena in 2001 and 2002. Alaska Right to Life sued in 2003.

The policy "is pretty clearly unconstitutional. It's too broad. Is there no standard set?" Jacobus said. "And these days virtually anything might offend someone."

Private promoters should follow the same principles the city would in hosting an event at a public building, Jacobus said.

Assistant municipal attorney Josh Freeman disagreed.

The promoter, Aurora Productions, was not acting on behalf of government and should be allowed to decide who exhibits, he said.

"There are tons of events that take place in municipal facilities that want to exclude others. They want it to be just for the theme that they have decided, whether it is weddings, political events, church events," Freeman said.

Jacobus said Alaska Right to Life's free-speech rights were violated, that it was not treated the same as other groups and that the city lacked specific rules for privately run shows.

Right to Life wanted a booth at the women's show to provide information about a suggested relationship between abortion and breast cancer, according to the lawsuit. The organization promised its display would be tasteful and that it would not present gory pictures, according to the complaint.

The city responded that it would be too complex to evaluate every event run by a private group on city property to make sure no one is excluded, Freeman said. A family barbecuing on public grounds could be prevented from turning strangers away. A softball team might have to afford due process to others not allowed on the field during its game, Freeman said, reading from a ruling in a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case.

"Should Alaska Right to Life be allowed to have a booth at the boat show, say?" Judge John Suddock asked.

"If they sold boats, I would think that they should be," Jacobus said. "But they don't sell boats. They could be excluded from that because the boat show has to do with boats."

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