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Judge prohibits Iowa officials’ Capitol ban on 5 protesters

December 11, 2020 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge issued an order that prevents state officials from banning a group of Des Moines Black Liberation Movement protesters from entering the Iowa Capitol grounds.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger said in an order issued Thursday that a ban requested by state legislative leaders and enforced by the Iowa State Patrol violates the constitutional rights of five protesters.

“The court finds the bans likely burden more speech than is necessary to achieve the significant state interests of preventing violence and ensuring public safety,” she wrote in issuing an injunction preventing enforcement of the ban while the case continues.

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Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Haley Jo Dikkers, Brad Penna and Brandi Ramus were among 17 people protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Capitol on July 1. They were calling for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign an executive order restoring voting rights for felons, an action she took on Aug. 5.

They were arrested after a scuffle broke out between police and the protesters. Afterward, troopers told them that legislative leaders had ordered them banned from the grounds and if they returned to the state property around the building they would be arrested for trespassing. Some were banned for six months and others for a year.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa said that the ban blocks their fundamental constitutional rights of free speech, assembly, their right to petition their government, their fundamental freedom of movement and due process.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the bans permanently. It also seeks damages.

The judge recognized that the state Capitol is a unique and special place for peaceful assembly and protest, allowing protesters to reach an audience of state policymakers and their fellow Iowa residents, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said,

“We are grateful to the court and relieved that our clients will be able to engage in their right to nonviolent speech and assembly at their state Capitol once again while we move ahead in this litigation,” she said.

A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general’s office, which represents the state declined to comment.