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Hare Krishna soliciting at airport barred; court upholds ban

world Updated: Mar 26, 2010 11:22 IST
Hare Krishna

The California Supreme Court has upheld a Los Angeles International Airport ordinance barring Hare Krishnas from soliciting donations inside airport terminals.

"Soliciting the immediate receipt of funds at a busy international airport like Los Angeles is particularly problematic," the court said Thursday in a ruling written by Justice Carlos Moreno.

"The problems posed by solicitations for the immediate receipt of funds that arise in any public place would be exacerbated in the often crowded and hectic environment of a large international airport."

This ruling is apparently the final defeat in 13-year legal effort by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) to secure the right to solicit in Los Angeles airport under the First Amendment, the Christian Science Monitor said.

After two decades of legal challenges against similar measures in other airports nationwide, it also points to the religious organizations' narrowing legal options.

In 1992, ISKCON brought suit against New York City airports claiming that a ban on solicitation in terminals violated their First Amendment right to free speech. After winning in district court and losing in circuit court, ISKCON lost its case in the US Supreme Court, the daily recalled.

The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the city's prohibition was constitutional because an airport terminal is not a "public forum." Furthermore, wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist for the majority, solicitation is disruptive in crowded, busy spaces and negatively affects business there, the Monitor recalled.

The ruling did not discuss the distribution of literature or the solicitation on sidewalks outside the terminal proper. In 1999 the Krishnas brought suit against Miami International Airport's ban on solicitation and the selling of literature anywhere in the vicinity of the airport.

The federal district court and appeals court ruled against the Krishnas, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the decision, leaving the Miami International Airport's restriction - and similar restrictions across Florida, Alabama, and Georgia - intact and legal.

Most recently, the Krishnas tried again in California. A federal judge ruled in their favour, but on appeal the US circuit court referred the case to the California Supreme Court because the statue in question was a state law rather than a federal law. The court upheld the ban on Thursday.

In California and some other states, Krishnas may still distribute literature in airport terminals and solicit donations outside on sidewalks.