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Starry Decisis: LAX Confidential

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In the days before 9/11, the biggest hassle in airport travel was having to turn down the pleas of the old women in nurses costumes standing by the escalators. Now, after 9/11, the fake nurses are still there, but they move down the long security lines that line the curbs. In this age of strict airport regulation, it’s surprising that airport solicitors and proselytizers didn’t get the steel-toed boot a long time ago. Instead, they remain protected by the First Amendment, if they can find a place to stand.

LAX was the site of a First Amendment showdown between the airport overlords and its terminal underlings. In 1983, the airport’s Board of Commissioners attempted to ban all begging, preaching, soapboxing and proselytizing going on in the terminals. It issued a regulation forbidding any “First Amendment activities” in the terminal area.

The first group to challenge the regulation wasn’t the poor nurses – they’re mute, don’t forget. Instead it was the Jews for Jesus. One of the group’s ministers had been shooed away by the airport police because he was passing out religious literature in the terminal. The J4J sued on the grounds that the law violated the First Amendment, discriminated against them, and was unconstitutionally vague. In 1987, the Supreme Court heard the case and issued an opinion so short, at eight measly pages, that it seems like the case shouldn't have even made it that far.