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Lawsuit: Minneapolis ordinance limiting events near All-Star game in July is unconstitutional

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MINNEAPOLIS - Organizers of a one-day street festival in Minneapolis sued the city Thursday, saying an ordinance that limits events around the time of Major League Baseball's All-Star game in July is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, claims the city ordinance gives MLB the authority to approve activities in certain areas for 15 days surrounding the July 15 All-Star game.

Organizers of the One Day in July Street Festival, which will commemorate the 80th anniversary of a deadly Teamsters strike in 1934, say MLB shouldn't have control over their event.

"It is an insult to me, and to all Americans, that before exercising my First Amendment right to speak and assemble I must first get permission from a private company," event organizer Jim McGuire said in a statement. "It is ironic that in trying to commemorate a horrific violation of our rights in the past, we are now facing further violations."

The ordinance, adopted Feb. 21, says the city won't issue permits or event licenses between July 5 and July 20 in an area that includes all of downtown Minneapolis without additional approval from MLB. The purpose of the ordinance, according to the resolution, is to keep the All-Star game's focus on baseball and "to prevent ambush marketing activity and other activities with the potential to distract from the event."

City spokesman Casper Hill said the zone was something MLB requires from cities hosting the game, and that such zones are typical, with Minneapolis creating similar zones for past sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. He also said Minneapolis needed to set a time period for the zone to be in effect, and decided 10 days before the game and 5 days after made sense.

The lawsuit, which names the city, the mayor and the police chief as defendant, seeks a court order that would declare the ordinance unconstitutional and bar the city from enforcing it. ACLU attorney Tom Hamlin said the lawsuit is not aimed at shutting down the game itself.

City Attorney Susan Segal said Minneapolis hadn't seen the lawsuit, so she had no comment on specifics raised in it. She said she reached out to the ACLU and offered to discuss their concerns.

"We will not and would not violate free speech rights, regardless of the presence of the All-Star game or any other national event occurring in our city," she said in a statement.

The lawsuit claims the ordinance violates the First Amendment for several reasons. Among them: The resolution is too broad, it imposes a content-based, viewpoint-discriminatory prior restraint on speech and it gives MLB unbridled discretion over speech-related permits. The lawsuit also says the ordinance has had a chilling effect because organizers fear arrest, and they are considering cancelling the festival, planned for July 19.

"Plaintiffs do not wish to subject their speech and expressive activities to Major League Baseball's review and approval," the lawsuit states.

In 1934, Minneapolis police shot 67 striking truckers, killing two. The festival, also meant to honour the right to organize, would include signs, banners, street merchandise, food service, parade, speeches and live music. Similar festivals were held in 2004 and 2009.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

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