NEW ORLEANS — The City of New Orleans agreed not to infringe on First Amendment rights in so-called “Clean Zones” under a court-approved settlement with the ACLU of Louisiana over the 2018 arrest of an environmental activist during the French Quarter Festival.
Luke Fontana was arrested and charged with violating New Orleans’ “clean zone” ordinance after setting up an informational table about his organization, Save Our Wetlands, at the festival. Fontana was injured by his arrest and spent 10 hours in jail, simply for providing information about his nonprofit in a public space.
Under the agreement, the City will not enforce any future “Clean Zone” legislation in any manner that infringes upon the right of the public to engage in free speech or expression, including specifically the right to distribute materials and solicit support. The city also agreed to provide 30 minutes of First Amendment training to NOPD recruits as part of the training academy, specifically training officers that individuals cannot be arrested for peaceably engaging in speech or protest.
“Luke Fontana’s arrest for peaceably distributing materials about his organization was a brazen violation of his First Amendment rights,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “Expressing an opinion about a political cause in a public space should never, under any circumstances, land someone in jail or subject them to harassment or arrest by the police. NOPD clearly needs a lesson on the First Amendment and under this agreement they’ll get one. We’re glad the city has agreed to show greater respect for the rights of all people under the First Amendment, and we’ll be staying vigilant to ensure city officials abide by these court-approved terms.”