Free Speech Question In Littleton

Community members against a proposed Wal-Mart “super center” in their neighborhood were not allowed to wear buttons or T-shirts during a city hall meeting in Littleton last week.

Now, with another meeting taking place tomorrow, there are questions over the legality of baring residents from wearing certain T-shirts and its relation to the First Amendment.From the Denver Post:

A fight over a new Wal-Mart is turning into a battle over free speech after opponents were told to put down their signs and take off their buttons and T-shirts in city hall last week.

“We felt like we were being railroaded,” said Robert Davis, 65, who was forced to turn his “Littleton Against Wal-Mart” shirt inside out. “This flies in the face of the First Amendment.”

A half-dozen or more police officers told numerous opponents to remove or cover their regalia or leave, according to witnesses.

Opponents also have well-known civil rights attorney David Lane working on a possible lawsuit, and more problems could happen tomorrow if others decided to wear their convictions.

Brad Bailey, Littleton’s assistant city attorney, said the city manager’s office imposed the rule because police expected a large, rowdy crowd of opponents and hoped to keep them from intimidating those who might not agree with them.

The Wal-Mart crowd, however, is the first to be restricted in Littleton City Center, Bailey said. A violation of the rule is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

Wal-Mart is a multi-billon dollar company and the largest private employer in the United States.  Its new store would be only one of many that dot the Denver-Metro suburban area.

The zoning meeting regarding the project is scheduled to continue Monday at 7 p.m. at Littleton City Center. Officials ended the meeting last week after four hours with dozens of opponents still waiting to speak.

“I would encourage every one of those people to wear a T-shirt with a message on it,” Lane said Saturday.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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