Responding to objections from the ACLU of Rhode Island and two free press organizations, a Providence City Council committee has postponed voting on a proposal that would have made it illegal to leave unsolicited newspapers on a person’s property. Under the ordinance, doing so would have been deemed “littering” with a $50 fine attached to each violation.
In written testimony, the ACLU, the RI Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition argued:"The unsolicited distribution of literature or pamphleteering is deeply rooted in this country’s history. It promotes an informed citizenry, encourages political discourse and is perhaps the most effective and cost-efficient way for people to communicate with other residents. To this day, community newspapers, as well as non-profit organizations, political campaigns and others, rely on pamphleteering.”
The groups claimed that similar ordinances had been struck down on First Amendment grounds. The ordinance distinguished between non-profit and for profit newspapers, only the former of which would have been allowed. The ACLU and the other organizations noted that in light of the ordinance's purported goal, it unfairly targeted certain First Amendment-protected speech without adequately addressing the littering problem it intends to solve. The groups said there were other alternatives available to address any legitimate littering concerns.
In response, the city council committee agreed to hold off consideration of the proposal until its next meeting.