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11th Circuit: Underage Occupy Kids Can't Meet in Bars

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By William Peacock, Esq. on March 07, 2013 3:02 PM

The Indigo Room is a bar. Bars serve alcohol. This bar also serves as a meeting place for the "Occupy Fort Myers" movement. Obviously, political activists come in all, shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and ages, but not all ages are allowed inside of bars.

Dylan Jones is 19 year old supporter of the Occupy movement. He went into the Indigo Room to attend a petition drive (and sign a petition) requesting an ethics investigation of the Fort Myers mayor. On his way out, he was handed a ticket by the local police for violating Fort Myers, Fla., Code § 6-83, which prohibits underage individuals from entering alcoholic beverage establishments while alcohol is being served. The only exceptions are:

  1. Persons employed at the establishment;
  2. Persons accompanied by a parent;
  3. Persons in a bona fide restaurant;
  4. Persons in an establishment with an "SRS" or special restaurant license issued by the state; or
  5. Persons entering during a time period when alcohol is not served or sold to the public.

The issue, summarized: political speech versus keeping Budweiser out of teenagers' hands.

The Indigo Room, Jones, and a third plaintiff sued, alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendments. Amongst other relief sought, they asked for a preliminary injunction, which was denied because they only had a snowball's chance in hell of actually succeeding on the merits.

The three appellants all allege that they want to engage in political discourse with each other. The problem is, the law that they complain of only incidentally effects political speech. The law keeps kids out of bars while alcohol is being served. It has a valid purpose.

The Court also highlighted Gary v. City of Warner Robins, Ga as controlling precedent. In that case, an under-21 stripper sued because she was not allowed to strip in bars that served alcohol. The Eleventh Circuit held that the ordinance did not restrict her right to dance nude - it only restricted her ability to do so in alcoholic establishments. That was not sufficient for a constitutional violation.

While political speech is far more protected than lap dances, the deciding factor wasn't the type of speech - it was the fact that there was no infringement.

The Occupy Movement is free to engage in political discourse - it just can't do so in bars, with underage participants, while alcohol is being served.

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