Animal rights protesters win suit over Cow Palace access
- [The following article comes from today's San Francisco Chronicle. For those of us who have spent many hours protesting rodeos at San Francisco's Cow Palace on and off since 1988, this federal Court of Appeals ruling is great and long overdue news. Congrats to Alfred Kuba for bringing this successful legal action.]
State loses suit over Cow Palace:
Protesters can't be kept from entry area, appeals court says
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
The Cow Palace violates freedom of speech by shunting animal-rights protesters off to so-called free-expression zones, far from the main entrance, during rodeos and circuses, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The Daly City arena, owned and operated by the state, has been restricting protest locations since 1988. The current rules require demonstrators to stay in one of three small areas at the edge of a parking lot, 200 to 265 feet from the main entrance.
In Tuesday's decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the state's arguments that the limits are necessary to prevent traffic congestion and protect drivers and pedestrians.
The 1-A District Agricultural Association, the state agency that manages the Cow Palace, offered no evidence that the handful of protesters who showed up at past events would cause hazards if they had more access to patrons approaching the arena, the court said.
Even if the state's concerns about congestion and safety were justified, the current policy "prevents far more speech than is necessary to achieve the goals,'' said Judge Martha Berzon in the 3-0 ruling. She said the state might instead require demonstrators to stand a certain distance from the entrance or limit their numbers or placement in areas near the entrance.
The ruling, based on free-speech protections in the California Constitution, overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton upholding the restrictions.
The annual Grand National Rodeo is scheduled Oct. 29 to Nov. 7 at the Cow Palace. The ruling will not yet be final during the rodeo, but Alfredo Kuba of Mountain View, who filed the suit as coordinator of Silicon Valley In Defense of Animals, said his group plans to be present and will enforce the ruling as soon as possible.
"It's a tremendous victory for all people of California who want to express their views freely,'' declared Kuba, who said he has been arrested several times for violating the restrictions. "If one cannot communicate one's message to the patrons we want, then we basically have no free speech.''
He said the protesters don't want to block anyone's access, but should be allowed close enough to the entrance that they can speak to or leaflet most of the patrons.
Deputy Attorney General Charles Getz said no decision has been made on an appeal. But he said the court left room for a ban on demonstrations in front of the main entrance, "which has always been the concern of the Cow Palace.''
Getz also said the ruling could be applied to comparable restrictions on political demonstrators - for example, the fenced areas designated for protesters at both recent major party conventions - if they occurred in California, where free-speech rules are more protective than U.S. constitutional standards.
Kuba's group holds protests outside the rodeo and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, another annual event at the Cow Palace. Kuba said its concerns include the cruelty in such rodeo events as steer wrestling and calf roping, and the conditions under which animals are kept and trained for the circus.
The Cow Palace Web site says the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is committed to humane treatment of animals, and cites a 2001 survey in which veterinarians at the association's 67 rodeos reported 25 injuries to animals.
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