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State reaffirms free speech at malls

Court denies Westfield’s request to review earlier ruling
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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It’s still OK to talk about God at the Galleria, the California Supreme Court decided in rejecting an appeal from mall owner Westfield. The court on Oct. 20 denied review of a ruling from the state’s third district court of appeal, which in August backed youth pastor Matthew Snatchko’s right to discuss religion at the mall. The case arose in 2007, when the pastor talked about his faith with two shoppers, who willfully engaged in the conversation. Mall officials issued a citizen’s arrest of Snatchko, who was later released without charges. “The ruling is a significant reaffirmation of free speech rights in California shopping malls,” said Matt Reynolds, an attorney with the nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute, which defended Snatchko. Reynolds said the decision signaled a broader interpretation of the state constitution. Before this case, the Galleria’s policy barred people from approaching strangers to talk about anything other than the mall itself in common areas. Reynolds called the policy “absurd” and “selective.” “An entity like the mall reserving for themselves the right to arrest people who talked on any expressive subject was seriously over-broad and intrusive upon people’s expressive rights,” Reynolds said. But the attorney conceded there should be limits for actions that are “significantly disruptive.” For example, he said, people couldn’t hold parades or carry large signs around the mall. The matter could end here, or continue to the U.S. Supreme Court if Westfield chooses to appeal. “The company is reviewing its options,” spokeswoman Katy Dickey said. Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.