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ACLU at Odds with Calabasas on 1st Amendment

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Today, the ACLU sent a letter to the City of Calabasas over a city policy reflected in their community service grant applications, which provides money to organizations for social service services within the city.

"A questionnaire that the city uses to determine eligibility for the money crosses a
constitutional line when it asks organizations if they, their board members or their administrators have ever been or are now in litigation with the city," Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney at the ACLU/SC explained in a statement. "Materials considered by the Council make clear that if the organization’s answer to that question is yes, it cannot receive funding."

The city of Calabasas says litigation by or against the city is taken into consideration, but does not neccsarily disquality them. "The City’s policy does not disqualify anyone from funding merely because they have litigated with the City but it does take litigation by or against the grant applicant into consideration," Calabasas Public Information Officer Michael Hafken told LAist in an e-mail. "As where an applicant seems to do more litigation than social service or is defending litigation which raises serious questions about the credibility of the organization such as a bankruptcy or a fraud suit."

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But Eliasberg says this is a core First Amendment issue. "This ordinance strikes at the heart of a core function of the First Amendment: to allow people to petition their government for redress of grievances, and access to the courts is part of the right to petition. By discriminating in this way, the city punishes organizations for engaging in First Amendment protected activity just because the city disagrees with that activity."

Calabasas is considering the comments from the ACLU and says they will respond after input from the City Attorney is obtained.

Photo by radiant guy via Flickr