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Squatter's Law squashes First Amendment rights

by Loren Moreno, Editor

No one expects to be banned from a public library. Carlos Hernandez didn’t and certainly not for the reason he was given. According to Lois K. Perrin, legal director of ACLU Hawai‘i, on May 18, Hernandez was surfing the Internet at the Hawai‘i State Public Library when he was asked to leave by a security guard. The guard said the Web site Hernandez was surfing was “pornographic.” Under the authority of Act 50, passed by the Hawai‘i State Legislature last session, Hernandez was told that he was not allowed to return to the state library for a year or he would be arrested.

Hernandez was chatting on, a resource Web site for gay and lesbians in Hawai‘i. According to Ken Miller, executive director of The Center—a Honolulu organization providing programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the community—the Web site is not pornographic at all. Kalamalama independently confirmed that no pornographic material appeared anywhere on the Web site.

So why was Hernandez banned from the state library?

According to Miller, the security guard may have simply been offended by a photograph of a shirtless man or possibly the colorful “Gay Hawai‘i” banner on the website. The security guard, in this case, has the authority under Act 50 to both remove and ban people from the library. So too does anyone else who works for the library or any other public agency—from their directors to their janitors. “This is a very bad law that allows the police and others to continue to oppress the thoughts and views of the gay…community,” said Miller. His view is limited. The law allows any public employee to ban anyone for any reason.

For Perrin, this case is a question of constitutionality. The law, deemed the “squatters’ law,” was initially intended to address homelessness in public areas. Perrin said, “Its enforcement has not been so limited.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hernandez and others charging the squatters’ law is unconstitutional. “This statute is a classic, standardless law in blatant violation of the United States and Hawai‘i Constitutions,” Perrin said.

Attorney General Mark Bennett, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, has been reported as saying that he believes the law is necessary and has said the state would not impinge on First Amendment rights. Miller disagrees, and points to the Hernandez case as proof. “Historically, the queer community has been oppressed by the institution of discriminatory policies,” Miller said. Miller pointed to examples of New York City in the ‘40s and ‘50s when gay and lesbians were arrested merely for walking down Christopher Street in the heart of the gay and lesbian neighborhood. “Bad laws like this one could take us back to those days,” Miller said.

Under the “Squatters’ Law”
* A lifeguard could ban someone from a beach for protesting pollution.
* The state could ban individuals from entering courthouses in order to prevent the filing of lawsuits.
* The state could ban political party workers from voting facilities for state and national elections.
* Police could “selectively” ban protestors from the state capitol.
* A Democrat janitor working in the state capitol could ban the governor from her office for a year.

Source: ACLU Hawai‘i



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