MLS Blurs Free Speech Line With Ban Of 'Political' Signs

August 28, 2019Media Mention

Law360 (August 28, 2019, 6:33 PM EDT) -- Major League Soccer's recent ban on political signs in the stands has drawn the ire of fans and others who argue it is a form of censorship, raising the question of whether the First Amendment protects fans' right to free speech in sports stadiums.

The issue came to a head this month after the Portland Timbers of MLS told fans that they were no longer permitted to fly flags bearing the Iron Front symbol, which features three arrows sloping downward and was used by groups opposing Nazism and communism in pre-World War II Germany. The symbol has more recently been associated with the controversial anti-fascist movement known as antifa.

"What I think [the MLS and its teams] are actually doing is banning fans from displaying their political beliefs while the team and the league is allowed to display theirs," said First Amendment attorney Ricardo P. Cestero of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP. "That is problematic in itself, and then there is this inherent vagueness on what is 'political' speech."

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