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Devotees Challenge New LAX Restrictions

by Doug Irving, Los Angeles Daily Breeze

Posted November 19, 2006

Travelers rushing through Los Angeles International Airport remain fair game for people collecting money for charity, two months after a judge's ruling cleared the way for sharp restrictions on that kind of soliciting.

With the holiday travel season fast approaching, though, airport police hope to begin enforcing new rules that would greatly limit how and where solicitors can approach travelers at LAX. But one group whose devotees have made an industry of airport soliciting -- the Hare Krishnas -- plans to seek an injunction to stop them.

Airport officials have fought for years to better regulate the people who collect donations in the terminals, citing concerns over security and congestion. The Hare Krishnas, in particular, have fought back, arguing that such rules would intrude upon their freedom of speech. "We're looking at every option. This is a long way from over," said David Liberman, a Los Angeles attorney who has represented the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The airport wants solicitors to stay within designated areas, where they won't interfere with the flow of passengers or distract airport police. It has 18 of those areas -- small rectangles marked off with scuffed blue tape on the floor -- spaced throughout the terminals. Airport police plan to begin writing tickets within about three weeks for solicitors who venture outside of those areas. But that leaves the airport solicitors free to move about the ticketing lobbies and other nonsecure areas of LAX until well after the big Thanksgiving weekend.

The airport first tried to write those restrictions into law in 2002, but a federal judge said they infringed on free-speech rights. U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall granted injunctions against the city, blocking the law from taking effect, until this year. Then she reversed herself, writing in September that the LAX rules were reasonable and did not single out any one group. Restricting solicitors to designated areas, she wrote, would "reduce congestion in the airport, increase security, and prevent passengers from being a captive audience."

At the time, LAX officials said they planned to begin enforcing the 2002 law as soon as possible. But it has taken some time for airport police to determine exactly how to enforce that law, said James Butts Jr., the deputy executive director of airport law enforcement for Los Angeles World Airports. "We are going to enforce it, but we have to make sure everyone is on the same page," he said. "It's not the most simple ordinance to enforce. We're just trying to get it right."

The Hare Krishnas still hope to do away with the solicitation restrictions altogether. The group intends to appeal the judge's most recent ruling and seek an injunction as early as this week, said Liberman, its attorney. The Krishnas, he said, should be allowed to "walk around, and if someone wants to make a donation, (they) can bring them over to a designated area." He argued that the areas taped off by LAX for solicitors are too out-of-the-way to make them worthwhile.

The Krishnas have argued that the airport's nonsecure areas, such as the ticketing lobbies, should be treated as a public place, the same as a city street. That would make it much harder to regulate how and where people can solicit donations; but the judge has rejected that argument in the past. The airport "is becoming more like a city than it ever has in the past," said Anuttama Dasa, a spokesman for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. "We're just part of that scene."

On Monday, Magdalena Jacobo spent the morning standing in silence beside a security checkpoint at LAX. She was wearing a white blazer with a red patch on the shoulder that marked her as an evangelist for the Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ. She had maybe $5 in loose change rattling around inside a tin collection can. And she figured it would be even tougher to solicit passers-by from inside one of the airport's designated areas, which she called boxes. "We'd go, sure. We have to obey," she said. "But if we can't make anything, what's the point?"


Reposted from Daily Breeze.