September 30, 2011

Privately Operated Market Building Foundation Cannot Ban Demonstrations  Even Though it Has Leased the Property from the City of Roanoke.

Roanoke, VA –  The ACLU of Virginia today informed the Chairman and the Legal Counsel for the Market Building Foundation that it cannot ban demonstrations from the sidewalk in front of the Roanoke City Market Building.
The Foundation, which leases the property from the City of Roanoke, recently voted to deny all requests to assemble on the sidewalk.
The sidewalk has been used on numerous occasions over many years for demonstrations and protests.
In a letter sent earlier today, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg points to court rulings holding that traditional public forums, such as sidewalks and town squares, that are leased to private organizations are still public forums.
Glenberg notes that attempts to ban demonstrators from the cobblestone walkways in Boston’s Faneuil Hall complex and preachers from the Rose Quarter Commons in Portland failed even though the properties in question were leased by private companies.  In both cases, the court held that private groups renting public forums from the city government must follow the First Amendment’s dictates of free speech.
“The right to free speech in a government-owned public forum does not dissolve merely because the forum is leased to a private entity,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “It still belongs to the public and the public still has a right to use it.”
Glenberg writes, “… the Market Building Foundation Board must follow constitutional norms when regulating speech on the sidewalk in front of the City Market Building.  The First Amendment allows for reasonable time, place and manner regulations of speech, but an outright ban on assemblies on the sidewalk is not permissible.”
A copy of Glenberg’s letter can be found online at:

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022