A federal judge awarded a Broomfield man a partial victory, allowing him to preach his Christian faith near an entrance to the Red Rocks Amphitheater despite a city policy that limits free speech activities to remote places.
Joseph Maldonado challenged the “public forum policy” of Denver, owner of Red Rocks Park and the amphitheater, and filed a federal complaint to overturn the restrictions as unconstitutional. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Senior Judge R. Brooke Jackson conceded that Maldonado couldn’t proselytize wherever he wanted, but the city was unwarranted to deny him certain spaces.
âI guess a lot, maybe most, of the people who buy tickets to an event at the amphitheater aren’t particularly interested in being proselytized by Mr. Maldonado or someone else as they leave their home. car and walk to the event, “Jackson wrote in an Oct. 5 Order granting a preliminary injunction. “But this practical reality does not trump the constitutional question. Denver has offered no other place where the complainant could share his message with pedestrians.”
Since at least the late 1990s, Denver’s public forums policy has placed restrictions on expressive activity, such as picketing or protesting, in some city-owned venues, including Red Rocks, Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Coliseum. In the case of Red Rocks, the amphitheater and surrounding area are reserved on event days for “the exclusive use of tenants and their guests”, that is, event planners and customers with of tickets.
Denver has designated five free speech locations at Red Rocks. Although they are close to the roads, they are far from the amphitheater and do not allow interaction with pedestrians. Maldonado, a vice president and facilities manager of an advertising agency who believes his faith compels him to evangelize, sued after event staff and police told him in April 2019 that he must adhere to approved sites if he wanted to preach to attendees.
In particular, Maldonado sought to preach at the Top Circle Lot, next to a security checkpoint, as well as the Upper North Lot. A staircase connects the two spaces. Maldonado preferred these locations due to the size of the crowds available.
At a hearing in Jackson’s courtroom last month, the city said it was ready to work with Maldonado to find him another site, but the two parking lots it identified were too busy. by tourist buses, disabled parking lots and event staff.
The judge agreed with Denver that the Top Circle Lot was not a traditional public forum, and the presence of an individual handing out leaflets or holding a sign could interfere with the ability of Red Rocks staff to handle large crowds of people. people, especially if some of them stopped to engage with Maldonado or, worse, confront him. Jackson cited a 1999 case challenging restrictions on free speech in the semi-enclosed Galleria at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, in which an appeals court ruled that the city justified restricting freedom of speech activity. expression there.
Denver had “presented evidence of the logistical difficulties and dangers associated with moving tens of thousands of pedestrians in and out of an Alpine amphitheater,” Jackson said.
However, the Upper North Lot is different: it does not have a sign limiting it to event parking, is open to pedestrians without tickets during events, and contains no barriers or indicators that people are entering a prohibited space. The judge did not find Denver to have justified the closure of the Upper North Lot to free speech by asserting a narrowly tailored and compelling government interest, as required by the First Amendment restrictions.
“Denver has not shown that the plaintiff’s activity would interfere with Denver’s ability to use the amphitheater as a revenue-generating arts venue, nor has it shown any safety concerns regarding the plaintiff’s activities in the North of the Upper Lot“Jackson concluded.
He added that unless Denver can muster stronger evidence for its position that the Upper North Lot should remain closed as a public forum, Maldonado will likely succeed in securing a court order to permanently prevent the city from ” apply its policy there.
But it may not be necessary: ââfollowing the preliminary injunction, the city appeared to reverse its previous position and approve the permanent use of the Upper North Lot for expressive activities.
“The sidewalks in question are new since the last update of the public forums policy on the place, therefore Arts & Venues [Division] will work to clarify the new locations to provide acceptable spaces for a public forum in Red Rocks, âthe spokesperson said Brian Kitts Thursday.
Jackson also applied his preliminary injunction to the rest of Red Rocks Park, with the exception of the amphitheater, which neither Maldonado nor the city objected.
The case is Maldonado v. Denver et al.