I never imagined that my first Herald-Leader commentary would involve fighting for this newspaper’s free-press protections. Yet it does.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Karen K. Caldwell, issued a momentous pro-First Amendment ruling in the lawsuit the Herald-Leader was forced to file against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
She stopped a new city-county ordinance that would have banned driveway distribution of free newspapers and other printed material from going into effect on May 1. City officials have not decided whether to appeal the decision. If they are wise stewards of precious tax dollars, they won’t go down that road.
The ordinance, which includes a $200 penalty for each violation, is likely unconstitutional because it would have the effect of cutting off circulation of our free Community News.
“The court recognizes that Lexington enacted this ordinance in response to concerns that it reasonably sees as needing (to be) remedied,” the ruling stated. “However, the First Amendment provides great protection to a newspaper’s rights to disseminate information to the public, and the rights afforded by the First Amendment must be vigorously guarded.”
We didn’t want to file suit. And we worked for over two years to remedy any complaints to city officials about delivery.
In the end, we had to protect our constitutional right to distribute our news and advertising products the only way that makes sense for our business — to your driveway.
Any government that enacts an ordinance like the one here has to have a really important reason and must show there are other practical ways to deliver newspapers. The city could not.
Why did we fight so hard to save Community News? After all, it is free and anyone can simply call us to stop delivery.
The reason is that is distribution is a vital link to our current readers, new readers and advertisers. And, perhaps most important to a free press, consider this: Were this ordinance to stand, what would stop the city government from banning driveway delivery of the Herald-Leader itself?
Caldwell did the right thing. Her ruling affirmed the strength of the First Amendment right to distribute news products and, in the process, effectively preserved freedom of the press right here at home.
There is honor in that, and I will continue to defend the Herald-Leader’s press freedoms.
Rufus Friday is president and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader.