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ACLU of Maryland, African-American caucus challenge ban on raising funds on state grounds

The ACLU of Maryland and the Caucus of African American Leaders are threatening legal action over a rule prohibiting the solicitation of donations in a plaza area the State House.

The groups say that the state Department of General Services’ regulation barring solicitation on Lawyers Mall violates the First Amendment because the area is an open public forum.

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“The need to address this constitutional violation is particularly urgent now that the General Assembly’s 2018 session has gotten underway, with numerous gatherings and demonstrations planned for the Mall over the coming months,” ACLU legal director Deborah Jeon wrote in a recent letter to Ellington Churchill Jr., secretary of the Department of General Services.

In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, DGS spokesman Nick Cavey said the rule has been in place since 1994.

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“This common sense and sensible regulation prevents political organizations from abusing state/public property,” he said. “The organization is more than able to host demonstrations but cannot raise money. The Department of General Services is bound by the laws and regulations of Maryland.”

Jeon wrote that if the state does not stop enforcing the rule by Feb. 1, the ACLU will seek a court injunction. She added that the ACLU has has previously expressed concern to the state that the rule is unconstitutional.

In October, the Caucus of African American Leaders and other groups were organizing a candlelight vigil to support victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and wanted to collect donations to help. State officials told them they could not solicit contributions on the mall, according to the letter.

Anne Arundel County native Tina Frost was among the people wounded in the shooting.

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