GARDNER, Kan. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sent a letter to the city of Gardner Police Department for alleged First Amendment rights violations against a volunteer political canvasser.

The letter says that Gardner resident Robert Bowen was going door-to-door as a volunteer for a political campaign and was approached and threatened by Gardner police with an “unpublished Gardner City non-solicitation” order.

According to the letter, Bowen had returned to his car to take a break from going door-to-door when a woman who lived in the neighborhood approached him and raised her voice because he looked suspicious.

About 30 minutes later as Bowen continued canvassing, he was approached by a Gardner police officer who told him he was violating a non-solicitation order, but did not provide him with an ordinance number.

The officer then threatened to arrest Bowen if he continued to canvass and drove away. Moments later, the officer pulled him over and cited him for failure to use a turn signal.

The ACLU said that the city of Gardner’s website does not say there is any criminal penalty for canvassing without a permit and does not list an ordinance number. It does, however, say that an annual or daily permit fee is required.

While nothing can change the fact that Mr. Bowen’s constitutional right to free speech has already been violated, we request you take immediate action to train the Gardner Police Department on the First Amendment rights of political canvassers to ensure that such violations do not continue to occur in
the future.

ACLU Letter

The ACLU concluded the letter by requesting that the police department train their officers on the First Amendment to avoid future violations, as well as a copy of the city ordinance that the officer cited.

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