Hare Krishna airport solicitations curtailed

USA Today/February 22, 1999

Washington -- The Supreme Court on Monday refused to let Hare Krishnas solicit donations or sell religious literature at Miami International Airport.

The court rejected an appeal that argued such restrictions violate free-speech rights.

Monday's action, taken without comment, is not a decision and sets no national precedent. But the denial of review lets stand a ruling that applies to all airports in three Southern states - Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Lawyers for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness had urged the justices to use the Miami case to end such restrictions at airports that these days closely resemble shopping malls.

The nation's highest court ruled in 1992 that airports nationwide may prohibit groups from soliciting donations in terminals but must allow distribution of free literature. That ruling was sparked by a challenge to restrictions imposed on Hare Krishnas at New York City's three major airports.

The 1992 ruling, reached by a 5-4 vote, said an airport terminal is not a traditional ''public forum'' as is a city street or park where free-speech rights enjoy enhanced protection.

The appeal acted on Monday asked the justices to reconsider the 1992 decision ''in light of recent significant developments in the airport industry involving the increased commercialization of airport terminals.''

The appeal said Miami's airport has been transformed ''into a prominent shopping center'' where, according to the airport's own statistics, half of all visitors stay at least two hours.

A federal judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Miami airport's restrictions.

The appeals court noted that the 1992 Supreme Court decision did not specifically address restrictions on the sale of literature, but said, ''The same problems that justify a governmental restriction on solicitation in a nonpublic forum may render a similar prohibition on the sale of literature reasonable.''

Writing for the court in 1992, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said solicitation can be disruptive for airline passengers who must slow down to avoid or respond to a solicitor.

The 1992 ruling did not discuss soliciting and selling literature on the sidewalks or in the parking lots outside airport terminals, but Miami International Airport bars such activities in those areas as well. The case is ISKCON Miami vs. Metropolitan Dade County, 98-874.

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