- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A federal appeals court has decided that a Utah Department of Transportation rule violates free speech rights by requiring groups to purchase a $1 million insurance policy before marching or protesting on state roadways.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the policy was unconstitutional, upholding a similar ruling last year from a federal judge in Utah.

A climate-change awareness group wanting to march in Salt Lake City challenged the policy when they couldn’t afford to pay $2,500 for insurance for their 2011 demonstration, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1B2dhso ).

The Denver court said UDOT could not prove that the insurance requirements matched the actual cost to Utah when permitting a parade. Utah already has broad immunity from most lawsuits that could stem from a parade, the court said.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Joni Jones said the state is deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. There are not many other court rulings on this issue and the high court may be interested in it, she said.

Utah has no data to justify the need to require insurance for demonstrations, but Jones said there have been accidents with commercial events such as bicycle races where an injured person sued the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which brought the suit on behalf of the climate change group and another organization, called the ruling a victory.

“I think it vindicates a need for a robust presence of protesters on public streets,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU in Utah.

In 2011, the climate change group iMatter Utah planned to have protesters walk on State Street, a Utah highway, as they marched from the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City to a festival near the city library.

UDOT would not issue the group a permit without an insurance policy, which iMatter said it could not afford. Instead of marching in the street, the group marched on public sidewalks.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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