A Michigan woman is suing her county over limiting her petition gathering to a 3-by-3-foot square of ground in a 135-acre park, a restriction one attorney said is in the running for the title of the "most unconstitutional [free] speech zone ever."
Earlier this summer, The Detroit News reports, Denise Miller sat at a picnic table near the beach at the Linden County Park in Genesee County, Mich., gathering signatures as part of a campaign to recall Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. A park ranger told her she had to leave, and the Genesee County Parks office later confirmed that she needed a permit to petition signatures within the park.
But after she applied for and received the permit, she discovered the parks office had limited her to a tiny "Freedom of Speech Area" that she says is located 20 feet from a remote corner of a parking lot and far from foot traffic.
Just in case she couldn't find the designated 3-by-3 foot zone, parks officials spray-painted an orange box in the grass to mark the spot.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court, asking U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh to strike down both the ban on petitioning without a permit and the rule restricting petitioning to the "Freedom of Speech Area."
"In a free society, citizens do not need the government’s permission to simply petition in a public park," said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director, in a statement. "Barring petitioning anywhere in a 135-acre park except for a tiny, isolated spot is a particularly egregious violation of the First Amendment."