A ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has canceled a Minnesota city’s ban on filming kids in a public park in a dispute that arose while a woman was gathering evidence to expose various zoning and other violations committed by a local mosque and its associated school.
The attorney general of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, a Muslim, had intervened in the case on behalf of the Muslim officials involved, but the court said a ban on video work in the public park, which police officers in Bloomington had used to threaten Sally Ness, was unconstitutional.
A civil rights complaint brought by the American Freedom law Center against the state on behalf of Ness was prompted by actions in 2019, when Ness was harassed for filming public events, ironically in the same area where the public’s videos of a police officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd have appeared on television thousands of times.
The AFLC said the First Amendment fully protects her actions, and additionally so because she was filming public matters related to a public controversy.
The case charged the city, state and its officials tried to make a crime of something that is “protected.”
“There is no doubt that the filming of the police misconduct involving the death of Floyd is protected by the First Amendment. Similarly, there can be no doubt that Ness’s filming is also protected by the First Amendment,” the AFLC said.
The issue involves the Dar al-Farooq mosque and its affiliated school in her neighborhood.
“Ness would often film zoning and other violations committed by DAF and the Success Academy that are disruptive to the neighborhood. Ness would publicly disseminate this information via a blog and Facebook page. She would also bring these violations to the attention of the city, which would largely ignore her concerns and the similar concerns of her neighbors,” the AFLC said.
Then in 2019, police threatened her that people felt “threatened” by her actions and ordered her to stop.
The cops said their decision to charge her with harassment would be based on how other people felt.
The city then adopted a new ordinance stating “No person shall intentionally take a photograph or otherwise record a child without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.”
It appeared aimed directly at her, since her efforts to document violations in her neighborhood, and a park that she would try to use with her grandchildren – necessarily featured children.
Shortly later she was informed by a detective she was under investigation for harassment.
Courthouse News explained the appeals court ruling “backed a Minnesota woman’s challenge of a city ordinance banning her from filming children in a city park.”
Ness, her lawyer explained, filmed students from her yard across the street in order to present her concerns about use of the park to city officials.
U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton, a Donald Trump appointee, explained in the unanimous ruling, “The acts of taking photographs and recording videos are entitled to First Amendment protection because they are an important stage of the speech process that ends with the dissemination of information about a public controversy.”
The decision said the restriction was content-based and didn’t pass constitutional requirements.
“Ness seeks to photograph and video record a matter of public interest—purported violations of permits issued by the city—and does not intend to harass, intimidate, or exploit children,” the ruling said. “Ness also advised the city that it was her practice to ‘block’ out the identities of juveniles when she posts images online, and the city produced no evidence to the contrary.”
An AFLC senior counsel spokesman said it’s no surprise Minnesota’s attorney general had “intervened in this lawsuit to oppose the First Amendment in favor of protecting Islam from public criticism of any sort.”
“Attorney General Ellison is a former member of the anti-American, Jew-hating Nation of Islam, an admirer of the rabid black racist Louis Farrakhan, and a card-carrying supporter of, and fundraiser for, the Muslim Brotherhood in America,” the spokesman said. “Ellison’s brief opposing this lawsuit is a tutorial on how Shariah-centric Muslims and progressives seek to destroy our fundamental liberties in the name of protecting Islam from legitimate criticism.”
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