DENVER – Today, the ACLU of Colorado sent a letter on behalf of Sol Mountain Farm to the Town of South Fork’s attorney demanding the Town immediately rescind a new policy banning solicitation of charitable donations on Town-owned property. The Town adopted the new policy in response to a complaint that the Farm was providing customers the opportunity to donate to the Black Lives Matter movement at its booth at the weekly South Fork Farmer’s Market.
“Solicitation of charitable donations is constitutionally protected speech, and the Town’s new policy, clearly violates the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Solicitation for Black Lives Matter, whether controversial or unpopular in South Fork, is afforded protection under the First Amendment.”
On July 10, 2020, Sol Mountain Farm, which has organized a Farmer’s Market in the Town of South Fork for the past seven years, solicited donations at its booth on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Five days later the Farm received an email from South Fork Visitor Center Director, Mark Teders which simply attached a letter “concerning Town of South Fork changes.” The letter, signed by Town Administrator Dan Hicks, stated that the South Fork Board of Trustees had “received formal complaints” from patrons of the Friday Market about solicitation of donations to a “political organization.” The letter further stated that the policy of the Board of Trustees forbids “solicitation of donations for organizations or causes at any events held on Town-owned premises.”
In response, the Farm emailed Mr. Teders for further information and clarification on the new policy. In response, Teders threatened that should the Farm, “choose to argue this point” the Town board would simply remove them as the organizer of the Farmer’s Market and appoint the role to someone else. The ACLU’s letter warns that this threatened retaliation for challenging the policy, if carried out, would constitute an “alarmingly egregious” violation of the Farm’s constitutional rights for which the Town would be liable in damages.
“South Fork is my hometown and we have established a strong connection with our community,” said Sol Mountain Farm owner Wes O’Rourke. “When this happened, we felt targeted and that our livelihoods were at stake. We just want the town to recognize that what they did is wrong and that this should never happen again.”
ACLU has requested the Town of South Fork to immediately rescind the policy that prohibits Sol Mountain Farm, and other citizens of South Fork, from soliciting donations. It has also demanded written assurance that the threatened retaliation would not be carried out.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.