Celli, a “street artist,” was prevented from displaying or selling his graphic images, mostly political in nature and containing poems or other written phrases, and his self-produced newspaper because of a city ordinance restricting the use of city sidewalks.
The Court noted that the sidewalk ordinance was content-based because it excused several types of speech (e.g. charitable, literary, scientific) but did not excuse political speech. Further, the Court found that the sidewalk was a public forum, and any content-based regulation on speech in a public forum must (1) serve a compelling state interest; (2) be narrowly drawn to achieve that interest; and (3) leave open alternative channels of communication. The ordinance did not pass this test because it prohibited a person or group from using or occupying public property without closely tying it to its interest of controlling pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the historic district of St. Augustine and did not leave open alternative avenues of communication.
Therefore, the Court found that the city ordinance was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, both on its face and as applied to Celli. The court determined that the newspaper and the artwork were protected expression under the First Amendment, and the fact that the works were offered for sale did not make them any less protected.
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