Business Law and Freedom of Speech

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Case Problem
By Lesha Paige
September 7, 2009
ISSUE (+ background information)
New York City has dealt with vandalism and defacement of public property caused by unauthorized graffiti for decades. In December 2005, the city banned the sale of aerosol spray-paint and broad-tipped indelible markers to persons under twenty-one and prohibited them from possessing them on public property. Within five months, five people, who were all under the age of 21, were cited for violations of the regulations. Lindsey Vincenty, who was studying visual arts, was unable to buy or carry her supplies in the city, filed a suit, along with others, in the federal district court on behalf of themselves and other young artists. They claimed that the new rules violated their right to freedom of speech. The issue is whether these regulations violate the right to freedom of speech. RULE

Freedom of Speech is protected by the First Amendment which “guarantees the freedoms of religion, speech, and the press and the rights to assemble peaceably and to petition the government.” Symbolic speech, which includes gestures, movements, articles of clothing, and other forms of expressive conduct, is given substantial protection by the courts. However, there are reasonable restrictions. Expression – oral, written, or symbolized by conduct – is subject to reasonable restrictions. The court may allow a restriction if it is content neutral. In order to be considered content neutral, the restriction must be combating a societal problem. APPLICATION

The court was asked to enjoin (to prohibit or forbid) the enforcement of the rules. Symbolic speech is protected by the courts, but there are reasonable restrictions. The city of New York banned the sale of aerosol spray paint and markers to persons under twenty-one due to the vandalism and defacement of public property. Even after the ban was in place, five people, all under the age of twenty-one, were cited for violations on these...
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