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 LAX airport under the First Amendment. But after two decades of legal challenges against similar measures in other airports nationwide, it also points to the religious organizations' narrowing legal options.
The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the LAX restriction on solicitation is constitutional. The Hare Krishnas' lawyer, David Liberman, told the Associated Press that this may be the end of the legal line. “It’s pretty conclusive, and it doesn’t look like there are any loopholes,” Mr. Liberman said. “As far as I can tell, it’s over.”
The Hare Krishnas' legal trail has stretched back over two decades. 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 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 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 favor, but on appeal the US circuit court referred the case to the California Supreme Court because the statute in question was a state law rather than a federal law.
That was the ruling handed down today. In California and some other states, Krishnas may still distribute literature in airport terminals and solicit donations outside on sidewalks.