BOROUGH OF LANSDOWNE FACES FEDERAL LAWSUIT
FOR PROHIBITING SPEECH FROM THE BIBLE 10/19/05
PHILADELPHIA - A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Borough of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania by the law firm of Shields & Hoppe, LLP on behalf of borough resident Michael Marcavage as a result of the Council's violation of his right to free speech.
On July 21, 2004, Michael Marcavage attended the regularly scheduled meeting of the Lansdowne Borough Council. During the open comment period mandated by state law, he rose to speak, intending to discuss prior public comments made by Kevin Lee, a member of the Council, as reported in the Philadelphia Gay news. However, when, as a part of his talk, Mr. Marcavage began to read a passage from the Bible, Norman Council, then Council President, told Mr. Marcavage that he would not be permitted to read from the Bible as it would be tantamount to engaging in hate speech. When Mr. Marcavage insisted that he had the right to speak, the Council adjourned the meeting. Mr. Marcavage was then forcefully removed from the Borough Council meeting and charged criminally with disrupting a public meeting.
"The Council's actions at this meeting were completely inexplicable," said Ted Hoppe, attorney for Michael Marcavage. "Every citizen of the Borough has the right to address the Council on matters that are important to them. Sometimes, those issues may make the Council members uncomfortable, but that is a part of their job. They do not have the right to restrict a citizen's speech simply because they do not like what they are saying. Doing so constitutes a clear violation of the right to free speech, even if the message is from a Biblical perspective," Hoppe continued.
The criminal charges were ultimately dismissed as being without merit by the Delaware County District Attorneys' office without the need for a hearing.
In addition to the complaint, a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction has been filed seeking a temporary order so that Mr. Marcavage can resume attending Borough Council meetings. "The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the Court confirming that Mr. Marcavage, and the other citizens of the Borough of Lansdowne, have the right to speak during the open comment period of the Borough Council meeting without having their speech censored and without being subjected to the threat of arrest," stated Hoppe.
Shields & Hoppe, LLP is a full service, general practice Firm providing representation of clients in state and federal Courts in Pennsylvania and the State of Delaware, with offices located in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware.
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