482 U. S. 569
June 15, 1987
At LAX airport, which is owned by the city of Los Angeles, a resolution was passed which banned all “First Amendment activities” in the airport terminal. It was drafted in response to groups like Jews for Jesus, who often distributed literature to travelers coming or going. Jews for Jesus argued, rather sensibly, that a resolution banning all First Amendment activity probably violated the First Amendment. One important question was whether an airport terminal should be considered a public or nonpublic forum.
O’Connor wrote for a unanimous Court, and concluded that no matter what type of forum the airport was, the resolution remained unconstitutionally overbroad. Read literally, she noted that the resolution would ban passengers from wearing shirts with writing on them, or even from talking while they walked through the terminal. Furthermore, she pointed out that there was no obvious other way to read the text of the resolution. O’Connor brushed aside the airport’s pathetic attempt to explain that it only banned activity that wasn’t “airport related,” observing that this proposed saving construction was laughably vague. White, joined by Rehnquist, grumbled in a brief concurrence that the Court should have decided whether an airport was a public or non-public forum.
This case is notable for marking Jay Alan Sekulow’s debut before the Supreme Court. As a Messianic Jew himself, winning this case unanimously must have felt especially gratifying. Incidentally, I have found that the most important and foundational truths are quite often the very things worldly governments are most eager to ban. Here, the distinctly Jewish message of God’s saving gospel was the object of zealous censorship. The very next case in United States Reports – Edwards v. Aguillard – might possibly be an even better example. The maniacal intensity that federal judges display in their quest to keep children from learning about creation only serves to underscore and illustrate creation’s indelible significance and centrality.