Harried Krishnas

After battling for 20 years in court for the right to solicit funds at Los Angeles airport, the Krishna Society has lost its only remaining First Amendment challenge to a ban on repetitive solicitations.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday upheld as a reasonable restriction on protected free speech a ban on continuous solicitation of money at LAX, which is not considered a public forum.

The decision upholds a lower court ruling against the International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California.

“Major international airports have a legitimate interest in controlling pedestrian congestion and reducing the risk of fraud and duress attendant to repetitive, in-person solicitation for the immediate receipt of funds,” wrote Judge John Noonan.  It is a reasonable restriction, he said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, the Los Angeles airport changed security protocols and reduced space available to the general public by 95 percent, from 4 million square feet to 211,000.  A significant portion is located behind the screening infrastructure in sterile areas of terminal buildings not open to the general public.

The Los Angeles Administrative Code bars solicitation for funds, although it does allow distribution of literature, including requests for future donations.

ISKCON argues that it wants to proselytize at the airport to spread its literature and religious beliefs to as many people as possible and that donations are essential for the group’s financial sustainability.

The group first sued in 1997 after the passage of the solicitation ban.

In 2000, the California Supreme Court held that state laws restricting public solicitation of donations did not violate the First Amendment and should be evaluated under a lower standard of legal scrutiny.

After a federal court sided with ISKCON in 2001, the city appealed but while it was pending a city ordinance allowed groups like ISKCON to obtain permits to solicit in designated areas within airport terminals only.

A federal court approved that city limitation and ISKCON again appealed in 2003.

Then in 2010, at the request of the 9th Circuit the state Supreme Court again said the law was a valid “time, place and manner” restriction on expressive rights.  The case was sent back to the federal trial judge to reconsider, given the state high court ruling.

In 2012, that court held the city law was a reasonable viewpoint-neutral restriction on expression at LAX., to reduce fraud, congestion and police distraction.

That brings us to Thursday’s appeal.  The 9th Circuit sided with the city in upholding the restrictions on solicitation.

Case:  ISKCON v. City of Los Angeles, No. 12-56621

 

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