The First Amendment and Private Property

A story from OneNewsNow recently reported that the Pacific Justice Institute is suing a California shopping mall for what it believes to be a violation of constitutional freedoms. The alledged violation is that a mall policy bans the following:

… anyone [from] ever sharing their faith or political views with anyone else in the shopping mall at any time if they did not know that person prior to entering the shopping mall.

The story also reported that the mall had rules banning individuals from “wearing any clothing that displays religious or political messages.”

The problem with this argument is that the First Amendment, coupled with the Fourteenth Amendment applying much of the Bill of Rights to the states, prohibits the federal and state governments from abridging political speech or prohibiting religious freedom. It says nothing of private individuals or mall owners who have their own ground rules for individuals wishing to enter their property.

Americans have every right to express their political or religious views, but we don’t have a right to demand others allow us on their property to do so. This principle also applies to other freedoms.

This common misunderstanding of the freedoms we hold as Americans reminds of me of a rather humorous incident I experienced on the job a few years back. After informing one of my employees that our company had a rule about what beverages could be consumed in front of customers, she responded, “That’s unconstitutional or something!” Sadly, she is not alone in such a misinformed mindset.

* The preceding was originally posted on the Young Americans for Liberty here and has fostered a lively comments thread.

3 Responses to The First Amendment and Private Property

  1. The California Constitution actually differs from the U.S. Constitution here. Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980) seems to have set the precedent that would allow the PJI to win easily.

    • Adam Fowler says:

      Interesting. Legally, the suit may win. I guess the question would then be whether, philosophically, one believes speech rights outweigh property rights. In other words, whether someone has the right to use someone else’s property to express views that the property owner may not like.

  2. LD Jackson says:

    Interesting discussion. I can see someone not wanting an individual on their property that is putting on a demonstration. I am not sure I would expand that to include someone wearing a piece of clothing that had a political or religious message on it, but that does seem like it would be the right of the property owner. At the same time, it is also the right of the individual to conduct their business at another establishment, one that sees no harm in allowing such “demonstrations”.

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