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Mar 16, 11:04 AM EDT

ACLU sues Georgia city over sign ban; city reverses decision

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Savannah on Friday over its plans to ban signs and posters from an area where Vice President Mike Pence plans to participate in a sprawling St. Patrick's Day parade.

City officials immediately backed off what they had previously said would be a complete prohibition of signs on the leg of the parade route being secured for Pence's visit Saturday. Savannah city spokeswoman Michelle Gavin told The Associated Press she misspoke at a news conference earlier this week.

"We are allowing signs," Gavin said. "I guess I put out misinformation."

Saying a prohibition on signs would violate free speech rights, the ACLU asked a federal judge for an injunction barring authorities from carrying out the ban, said Sean Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia. He said the group sued in U.S. District Court in Savannah on behalf of four people seeking to protest during Pence's visit.

"We think Savannah should spend more time protecting the rights of its citizens than protecting the feelings of the vice president," Young said.

Pence is expected to join 500,000 or more people celebrating St. Patrick's Day in one of the South's biggest street parties after Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Security plans for Pence include requiring parade goers to pass through metal detectors in an area covering a dozen square blocks in the heart of Savannah's downtown historic district. People entering the secure zone won't be allowed to bring coolers, folding chairs or backpacks. Posters and signs were also included on a list of 29 prohibited items distributed by city officials at a news conference Wednesday.

Gavin told reporters Wednesday the list of banned items was based on security limitations imposed by the Secret Service at similar high-profile events such as the presidential inauguration.

Gavin said Friday that authorities were still trying to determine whether to place any restrictions on signs - such as barring signs mounted on sticks that could be used as weapons.

The area being secured for Pence's visit includes only a small portion of the 2.25-mile (3.6-kilometer) parade route that winds through downtown Savannah. But it's a popular area with spectators that includes City Hall and two of the city's oak-shaded public squares.

Parade spectators on St. Patrick's Day typically watch from the sidewalks or gather in the park-like squares along the route - all of which are public property.

Authorities planned to begin letting people into the secured zone at 7 a.m. Saturday. Gavin told reporters security restrictions should be lifted by 1 p.m. after Pence leaves Savannah.

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