South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Some Private Sidewalks May Be Public Forum for Free Speech Purposes
Description Appeals court held that the private sidewalks around private stadiums could be a proper location for the exercise of free speech, as they blend into the surrounding streets and public sidewalks. The common areas closer to the stadiums are not open for speech purposes.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words First Amendment; Free Speech; Public Forum
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers play their home games at the Gateway Sports Complex, which has stadiums for both teams. The United Church of Christ (UCC) wished to gather and demonstrate on the sidewalks of the Complex in protest of the name of the baseball team (Indians). The Complex, which is privately owned, prohibits all persons from soliciting, advertising or protesting on the property. The UCC contended that it has a First Amendment right to speak in such a location, which it deems a public forum. The district court rejected their claim; the UCC appealed.
Decision

Reversed in part. For First Amendment purposes, there are traditional public forum, designated public forum, and nonpublic forum. The sidewalks around the stadiums are traditional public forum as they blend into the urban grid and roads. They look like any public sidewalk and are a public thoroughfare. Whether a sidewalk is a public forum hinges on a case-by-case inquiry. While the sidewalks around the stadium are a public forum, the common areas inside the stadium area are not.

Citation United Church of Christ v. Gateway Economic Development Corp., 383 F.3d 449 (6th Cir., 2004)

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