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Ice rink might freeze out First Amendment

SOAPBOX •ÊWould Pioneer Square still be considered Portland's 'living room' if it's covered with ice?

The recent article questioning the wisdom of a Pioneer Courthouse Square ice rink (Ice rink numbers may not add up, Nov. 29), while true, did not adequately cover the most important reason why the rink would be a bad idea.

An ice rink in Pioneer Courthouse Square will freeze out free speech.

Don't think so? Look at the record. Both the city and Pioneer Courthouse Square Inc. have an abysmal record on free speech. Remembering that the square is a public park, not a private preserve, and that it has been officially declared 'Portland's Living Room,' consider just a few events:

• In 1991, a preacher named Ron Rohman was given an 'exclusion' from the square for 30 days, then arrested for holding a sign while some other, paid event was going on. He appealed the exclusion; the hearings officer declared the exclusion unconstitutional and voided it.

• In 1994, several dozen members of the Critical Mass bicycle movement gathered in the square after one of its events to talk over the results of the event. A couple of them handed out leaflets. Pioneer Courthouse Square representatives told them they were having an 'unauthorized' event and must leave or purchase a rental permit for the square. A federal judge said the requirement was unconstitutional and awarded damages and attorney fees.

• In 1995, Pioneer Courthouse Square limited 'free' speech to a tiny, 10-by-10-foot corner of the square and demanded that the speaker's voice not be audible more than 10 feet away. Rohman was arrested and jailed by the city for violating the rule. A federal judge declared the rule unconstitutional and awarded damages and attorney fees.

• In 1999, another preacher, Daniel Lee, was preaching on the public sidewalk around the square and was arrested. He was prosecuted for violating an ordinance by allegedly 'interfering with a permitted event in the park.' He was accused of interfering with completed sand sculptures that were on display. A Multnomah County judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.

• In 1999, Scott Riddell, a freeze-model artist, was first excluded from the square, then arrested and jailed for criminal trespass II. He was convicted but won on appeal.

And these are just some of the cases of which I am aware. There probably are many others.

Now I ask you, if the city and Pioneer Courthouse Square Inc. have been so aggressive in removing free speech from the square in the past, what makes anyone think they will be more friendly toward it once an ice rink is operating there?

Oh, the city and Pioneer Courthouse Square Inc. give great lip service to free speech, but what they really support is expensive speech Ñ that is, if you want to hold a planned rally and can afford the costs of permits, they welcome you. If you are alone or part of a small group with a message, you will either pay for the permit or pay in time and trouble in the courts.

Pioneer Courthouse Square was created to offer a good, old-fashioned public square Ñ a living room for the Portland family to sit around and talk about the issues of the day, or just the day. The goal was free speech, which is obvious from the design. The square contains two amphitheaters.

The ice rink promoters want the square to become a 'customer magnet' with the goal of 'revitalizing downtown business.'

But this is a public park, not an amusement park Ñ a living room, not a business opportunity.

Let's keep it that way.

Paul deParrie is an activist who does paralegal work. He lives in Southeast Portland.