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ACLU sues over free speech in Pence security zone at parade. Now, Savannah says signs OK

Vice President Mike Pence, left, and his wife wife Karen Pence, center, welcome Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, right, to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, on Friday, March 16, 2018.
Vice President Mike Pence, left, and his wife wife Karen Pence, center, welcome Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, right, to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, on Friday, March 16, 2018. AP

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit Friday contending that a restriction on signs in the security zone set up for Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Savannah's St. Patrick's Day Parade is unconstitutional.

Soon afterward, the city announced that signs would be allowed in the security zone, despite being on the list of banned items distributed earlier in the week.

On Wednesday, the city announced a ban on posters and signs, among a variety of other things such as backpacks and portable chairs, in the security zone.

City spokesperson Michelle Gavin told WSAV that signs will be allowed in the security zone as long as they are not on sticks or poles.

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These things will not (left) and will (right) be allowed into the secure zone of the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday while Vice President Mike Pence visits. City of Savannah

The ACLU, with lawyers from The Claiborne Firm and Woolf Law Firm, announced the lawsuit in a news conference in Wright Square on Friday morning.

"In direct response to our lawsuit, the city has caved in," Savannah attorney Will Claiborne told The Savannah Morning News. "This is a great day for the First Amendment."

“Instead of waiting for the ACLU of Georgia to file a lawsuit to protect the sacred, constitutional rights of its citizens, the city should have done the right thing to being with,” Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a news release.

The security zone is a roughly 12-square-block area between Bay, Oglethorpe, Whitaker and Drayton streets. It will have restricted access beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, according to a news release from the city.

From 7 to 10 a.m. only, pedestrians will be allowed to come into the secure area, but they have to first go through a magnetometer check point, according to the release.

No one will be allowed in after 10 a.m., and no one will be able to cross the parade route on Bull Street until security gives the go-ahead, which is expected to be around 1 p.m., according to the release.

Business owners within the security zone have expressed concerns about what the extra security will mean for their customers.

Pence's visit also is being met with concerns from the LGBTQ community in Savannah this week. Leaders with Savannah PRIDE and First City Network expressed their apprehensions about Pence's political stance on same sex marriage and other equality-related issues.

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