SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – A federal judge in San Francisco, citing the constitutional right to free speech, has eased limits on protesters who want to express their views from the sidewalks of the Golden Gate Bridge.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel, in a summary judgment issued Jan. 7, struck down five restrictions set by the Golden Gate Bridge. District on free-speech activities by individuals and small groups.

Patel issued the ruling in a civil rights lawsuit filed by two Bay Area peace activists, Derek Turner and Mari Tobin Blume.

The rules declared unconstitutional by Patel were a requirement for a permit for the use of a sign; a mandate that permit applications must be submitted four days in advance; and bans on signs with handles, bullhorns, and any activity using signs after 2 p.m. on weekend days.

Patel wrote that the district hadn’t proved the rules were needed to promote security or smooth traffic flow on the span.

“The district has not shown that an individual or small group with a sign amidst the multitude on the bridge’s sidewalks realistically presents a serious threat to traffic and safety on the bridge,” she wrote.

The ruling applies only to activities by groups of fewer than 50 people. Permit requirements for larger groups remain in place.

Patel noted that the famed span is a prime location for free speech.

“The Golden Gate Bridge is a unique locale that commands a worldwide audience,” she wrote.

Ajay Krishnan, a lawyer for Turner and Blume, said, “This is a victory for free speech, for spontaneous speech and for the right to protest.”

Krishnan said the plaintiffs’ lawyers had not yet determined whether they should seek an additional court order, such as an injunction, to carry out the summary judgment ruling.

Bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie said officials at the agency were reviewing the decision and had not decided on their next steps, which could include an appeal.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)


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