Our Opinion: Correct error in festival district during review process

Trial and error is an accepted scientific method.

We commend the Jefferson City Council for adopting the festival district concept on a trial basis. The trial ended June 30; an examination of successes and errors is planned.

We believe the festival district enjoyed a number of successes. We also believe one error — and it is a significant one — must be corrected.

The error is a decision by festival district organizers to circumvent the First Amendment right of free speech. The breach occurred when pro-life and pro-choice petitioners were prohibited within the festival district.

By way of background, the festival district concept was established by an ordinance approved by the city’s governing body.

The ordinance allowed festival district permits to be sought during the trial period for two areas of the city — downtown and on Dunklin Street.

The permits essentially extend the legal consumption of alcoholic beverages to outdoor areas within the district.

The Downtown Business Association applied for and received permits to operate festival district during its Thursday Night Live events in June.

The ordinance addresses district boundaries, alcohol consumption and allows the permit holder to prohibit the sales of food or beverages by unauthorized vendors. It specifies no other prohibitions.

Organizers of the downtown district contend the across-the-board prohibition on solicitations was designed to prevent festival-goers from being pestered.

We don’t see where that authority is granted either by the First Amendment or city ordinance.

Freedom of speech includes pesky applications — as we repeatedly are reminded by Westboro Baptist Church protests at military funerals.

Thursday Night Live largely was a popular application of the festival district. Attendance increased steadily throughout the month, topping out at an estimated 5,000 people on June 30; police reported few problems; and festival-goers generally applauded the added community amenity.

But the First Amendment must be respected.

We don’t envision upholding the Constitution will decrease attendance or enjoyment at festival district events. And, even if it did, that is a consequence of freedom.

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