For Immediate Release: January 21, 2012
Victory for Petition Circulators: St. Charles Drops Charges,
Acknowledges First Amendment Right to Gather Signatures
St. Louis, Missouri—In response to pressure from the Freedom Center of Missouri, St. Charles City Attorney Mike Valenti announced this morning that the City will drop charges against two petition circulators who were cited last weekend for gathering signatures on the city’s public sidewalks.
This controversy was sparked in the early hours of January 15, when two volunteers with the Show-Me Cannabis Regulation campaign were gathering signatures on North Main Street in St. Charles. The ballot initiative seeks to legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana under Missouri law and to regulate it in a manner similar to tobacco or alcohol. Two police officers approached the petition circulators, issued them citations for “soliciting without a permit,” and confiscated some of the petitions, which included approximately fifty signatures. Acting on behalf of the volunteers, the Freedom Center of Missouri insisted that the First Amendment required the City to drop the charges, return the seized petitions, and to destroy any copies the police had made of those petitions. The City has agreed to comply.
“We felt it extremely important to establish that this sort of interference with citizens’ freedoms of speech and petition will not be tolerated,” said Dave Roland, the Freedom Center’s director of litigation.
In an email sent to announce the City’s actions Valenti said: “The City views this matter as an isolated incident and fully respects citizens’ First Amendment right to lawfully collect petition signatures on public sidewalks.”
“We applaud Mr. Valenti for his swift action,” said Jenifer Zeigler Roland, the Freedom Center’s executive director. “Citizens’ right to share political viewpoints and to petition the government when they believe laws should be changed is an essential part of our constitutional system. Police officers should know that this right may be freely exercised on public sidewalks, but if the police make a mistake municipal attorneys ought to follow Mr. Valenti’s lead and correct the constitutional violation as quickly as possible.”
Founded in November 2010 and headquartered in St. Louis, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
If you approve of the Freedom Center’s efforts to protect the freedom of speech and the right to petition, please click the Donate button at the right side of the page and help support our work!