The Associated Press

The Libertarian Party has sued a twice-monthly downtown festival for allegedly violating the First Amendment right of free speech by prohibiting political or religious groups from participating.

The party filed suit in Pima County Superior Court against Tucson's Downtown Saturday Night, a festival intended to spur revitalization of the downtown area.

Shops open late and artists display their wares surrounded by music and street performers at the festival, run by the Tucson Arts District.

The party sued after its request for a permit to operate a voter registration booth was rejected, said Peter Schmerl, chairman of the Pima County Libertarian Party.

"It's a censorship issue for us," Schmerl said. "We don't see why we should be excluded based only on our political affiliation."

The city prohibited the non-profit Arts District from granting booth permits to religious groups, to keep the separation of church and state, said Sarah Clements, the executive director of the arts district.

Festival organizers extended the ban to political groups.

"We did not want this to become a political venue," she said.

But Schmerl said there is plenty of politics at some level, from passing out fliers on issues to collecting signatures on petitions for various causes.

"It's a kind of fuzzy line," Clements said. "There are some issues we allow that seem to be political, such as AIDS, but we really try to interpret our policy as black and white as possible."

The Libertarian Party is trying to recruit enough members to be considered a continuing political party and give them easier access to state and local election ballots.

Without the downtown booth, Schmerl said the party has had to abandon its registration drive and hire petition circulators to collect signatures.

The lawsuit, which names the district and the City of Tucson as defendants, asks for $15,000 to pay for the petition passers and $50,000 in punitive damages.

Clements declined to comment on the suit itself. Read Next Article