State Fair bans 2 men from petitioning

    36

    By RYAN RAUZON

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Utah State Fair Corporation on Monday for banning two men from collecting signatures outside the fairgrounds.

    John Slevin and John Guido were promoting a citizen initiative proposal to make English the official language of the state by collecting signatures from fair visitors last week.

    Donna Dahl, executive director of the nonprofit fair organization, told them they had to purchase a booth within the park, and that collecting signatures outside was not allowed.

    “I told them they could stand out on the city’s sidewalk, but not in the parking lot,” Dahl said. “But they insisted on staying in the parking lot, so I had them removed.”

    Salt Lake City police arrested Slevin for criminal trespass.

    Brian Barnard, the ACLU lawyer representing Slevin and Guido, said the fair corporation’s actions were in direct violation of the first ammendment.

    “We feel the State Fairpark is an appropriate place to collect signatures and petition government organizations,” Barnard said. “The principle here is that government should not squelch free speech. (Fair organizers) are stomping on the First Amendment.”

    Barnard said the Utah State Fairpark does not fall under the same category as prisons, courthouses and military bases, where protests and citizen activity are generally not allowed.

    Dahl, however, insists they must conduct their business in the same way everyone else does at the fair: by purchasing booth space.

    “We intend to fight this lawsuit,” Dahl said. “If they want to exercise their right, they have to do it in a booth, not in the parking lot.”

    Dahl said booth prices runs anywhere from $350 to $800 for the duration of the fair.

    Barnard, who strongly disagrees with and will not sign his clients’ petition, said, “People have the right to propose stupid laws. The principle protects the marketplace of ideas.”

    Barnard wants the fair corporation to establish guidelines for petitioners.

    “If fair organizers want to make rules about the number of people collecting signatures, that’s fine,” Barnard said. “But they can’t outlaw the entire practice. It’s not right.”

    Slevin and Guido are professional signature gatherers with a group called National Voter Outreach, based in Nevada. They ran into similar problems with Salt Lake County Fair officials in Murray, but reached an agreement allowing them to return and continue collecting signatures.

    U.S. English, a Washington D.C. based organization aimed at making English the official language of the country, provides the funding for Slevin and Guido’s operation.

    Tim Schultz, the media director at U.S. English, said Slevin and Guido get paid for each signature they receive.

    “Both of these gentlemen are paid through National Voter Outreach, who we contract with,” Schultz said. “But we also have volunteers doing the same thing.”

    U.S. English has a booth inside the fair, but Slevin and Guido are not directly connected with their efforts.

    “We neither support nor condone their actions,” Schultz said. “If our workers, whether contracted through National Voter Outreach or serving as volunteers, feel they’re being treated unfairly, then that’s something they have to pursue on their own.”

    With an average of 300,000 visitors each year, the Utah State Fair is an attractive venue for people like Selvin and Guido.

    Barnard said his clients plan on collecting signatures on the city sidewalk surrounding the fairpark until the federal court issues an injunction keeping fair officials from interfering with the pair’s work.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email