SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — An activist's Nazi salute during a City Council meeting caused too much disruption, a judge ruled, saying free speech goes only so far in City Hall.
Homeless-rights activist Robert Norse filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming the city violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him at a council meeting in March 2002.
But U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte disagreed in a ruling issued last week. The judge said Norse's action was too disruptive for the venue.
"You don't have the same First Amendment rights in a meeting as you do on the street," said the city's lawyer, George Kovacevich. "You have the right to attend, but you don't have the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want."
Then-Mayor Christopher Krohn had called an end to public comment during a council meeting and instructed a woman to step away from the microphone. After twice being told to leave the microphone, the woman walked over to Norse, who raised his right arm toward council members in a Nazi salute.
Norse was asked, but refused, to leave, and was arrested.
A City Council policy states that people who "interrupt and refuse to keep quiet or take a seat when ordered to do so by the presiding officer or otherwise disrupt the proceedings of the council" may be removed from a meeting.
Norse said he would appeal the judge's decision.
Norse, a council gadfly who often attacks the city's homelessness policies, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the salute was meant as a protest against the city's refusal to deal with homeless issues.
"This is not about the Nazis and this is not about me," Norse said April 2 as quoted in the newspaper. "This is about mayoral actions that involve oppression. What I'm fighting is not the Nazi salute. I'm fighting council oppression."