The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana today sent a letter to city of Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn demanding he immediately rescind his memo banning booster clubs that use city facilities from purchasing Nike products.
“The city’s recreation facilities should be open to everyone — not just those who happen to subscribe to the mayor’s political beliefs,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “The mayor doesn’t have to agree with Nike’s ad campaign, but he has no business dictating which political causes people support or where people can buy their gym shorts.”
The ACLU argues the policy violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections and that the mayor’s justification for it fails to pass any constitutional test.
“The First Amendment protects against suppression of political speech, which is at the core of what the mayor is trying to do. He is brazenly censoring the political views of the residents he is supposed to represent,” said ACLU of Louisiana staff attorney Bruce Hamilton.
Mayor Zahn issued the memo after Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its 30th anniversary campaign. Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem at a preseason game in 2016 to protest the injustices Black people continue to face in the United States.
President Trump has regularly vilified players for kneeling.
“Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, the mayor of Kenner is attempting to silence those who support Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice,” said Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Free Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The policy banning booster clubs from purchasing Nike products is a textbook First Amendment violation, and the mayor would be wise to rescind it immediately.”
Following initial reports of the memo, Mayor Zahn issued a public statement in an attemto to clarify his response to Nike’s recent advertisement featuring Kaepernick. The mayor also noted that he sought the ban to avoid promoting the brand’s “political agenda.”
In today’s letter, the ACLU states that the mayor’s “personal objection to the political messages expressed by Nike is simply not a legitimate government interest, let alone a compelling one.” The letter goes on to note that Kenner booster clubs and their members have a protected right to exercise their freedom of expression by buying, and wearing, their chosen sportswear at Kenner facilities.
“Over the past few days we’ve seen the people of Kenner come together to speak out against this heavy-handed mandate and rally behind the values we share,” said Odoms Hebert. “Protesting injustice is the oldest American tradition there is. And whether you’re a worker standing on a picket line or a professional athlete taking a knee, the ACLU will continue to defend those rights — in communities, at the capitol, and in court if we have to.”
A copy of the letter sent to Mayor Zahn is available here.