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ACLU backs Nebraska man arrested for handing out religious fliers

A Nebraska civil liberties group is representing a Lincoln man arrested by police last month for handing out religious pamphlets outside Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska said Wednesday that Larry Ball was on a public sidewalk and exercising his First Amendment rights when he handed out the fliers.

Attorneys with the ACLU filed a motion Monday in Ball's case requesting that the charges against him be dismissed.

Ball, 76, was arrested March 15 after refusing police orders to stop handing out the fliers as the Nebraska Boys State Basketball Tournament was being played inside the arena. He has been charged with misdemeanor counts of trespassing and refusing to comply with a police order. He was released the day of his arrest after posting a $100 bond.

Ball could face up to six months in jail if convicted of the trespassing charge alone.

Police had said the arena's security staff called officers when Ball ventured beyond traffic barricades near the arena despite several warnings.

Ball insists he was on a public sidewalk and was not harassing anyone, saying he didn't pressure anyone who declined to take a pamphlet. He acknowledged that security staff asked him to leave more than once, but he argued that authorities had no right to remove him. He said in an ACLU news release Wednesday that police told him that because the arena is managed by a private agency, he was not on public property.

The arena sits on public property owned by the city of Lincoln and the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency.

"The idea that taxpayers approved funding for the arena, appointed public officials to oversee the arena, but have no free speech rights because the city hired a private company to manage the space is disrespectful to the taxpayers of Lincoln," said ACLU Nebraska attorney Amy Miller. "The sidewalk in front of the arena is clearly public land, no matter which entity gets the paycheck for maintaining the space."

Authorities intend to show Ball was not on public property, Lincoln City Attorney John McQuinn said Wednesday. McQuinn had no comment on the ACLU's request to throw out the charges, saying he had not yet seen the motion.

A hearing in the case is set for Wednesday.

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