The Denver-based federal appeals court on Wednesday agreed that a man convicted of violating a sidewalk obstruction ordinance while holding an “Islam Kills” sign outside a Northglenn mosque had failed to show his rights of the First Amendment were violated.
Richard Roy Blake filed a federal lawsuit to declare unconstitutional the portion of the Northglenn Municipal Code that makes it unlawful to place “any object which causes or is apt to cause the obstruction” on any roadway or sidewalk.
A Northglenn official quoted Blake as per the ordinance as he stood outside the Masjid Ikhlas – Metropolitan Denver North Islamic Center with signs critical of Islam. Although Blake objected to the “apparently unconstitutional legal theory” that his presence impeded pavement, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed that the ordinance addressed a legitimate need to regulate impediments without targeting speech.
“The ordinance prohibits blocking the sidewalk regardless of the type of object used,” Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. wrote in the Jan. 25 court order. He noted the original police report Blake submitted to the 10th Precinct, which claimed that “in order to[Blake]walk around, you had to step out onto the street.”
For years, Blake had turned up for “open houses” at the mosque, ostensibly hoping to find “moderate” Muslims receptive to his concerns about the treatment of women and Christians under some Islamic regimes. He told the 10th Circle he wanted to “act as a force of truth” to warn participants of Masjid Ikhla’s ‘true agenda’.
On January 4, 2020, Blake stood outside the mosque holding a sign that read “Equal Rights for Christians in Islamic Nations” on one side and “Islam Kills” on the other. A witness called police after seeing a pedestrian and a cyclist move to avoid Blake and a vehicle pull up to speak to him.
An officer came and quoted Blake under the Northglenn code. After a trial in a district court, a jury convicted him of violating the Sidewalk Disability Ordinance. Blake then appealed to the Adams County District Court, arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and also criminalized First Amendment protected activities.
“Mr. Blake admitted to standing on the sidewalk while holding a large sign. He admitted speaking to the occupants of a truck that had been parked in the lane for ‘no more than 5 minutes’. He admitted he tried to hand leaflets to pedestrians as they passed him on the sidewalk,” Judge Teri L. Vasquez wrote, noting that the ordinance enforced against Blake did not affect the content of his speech and instead focused on it the disability focused .
Blake appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court, both of which declined to review the case. In February 2021, Blake filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging similar allegations.
US District Court Judge Regina M. Rodriguez dismissed his complaint, citing legal doctrine that prohibits federal courts from reviewing state court decisions, and otherwise agreed that Blake’s First Amendment claim had failed.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has found regulation to regulate or assist the flow of traffic on a public sidewalk to be lawful and in the public interest,” she said in March 2022.
Blake appealed again, accusing the police officer of “inventing phantom pedestrians, bicycles, etc.” and to dispute the idea that an “object” under the Municipal Code could encompass him with a shield.
The 10th Circle disagreed.
“Because a jury convicted Mr. Blake, he cannot plausibly claim that there was no probable cause for the issuance of the subpoena,” said Matheson, who wrote for the three-person appellate panel. While the panel believed that Rodriguez misapplied the doctrine prohibiting federal review of state court decisions, it otherwise found no justification for Blake’s contention that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague or so broad that it make talking a punishable offense.
After The Commerce City Sentinel Express, Northglenn City Council, enacted a buffer zone for demonstrations outside of religious establishments in 2021 in response to Blake’s protests and the consequent response from law enforcement. Blake filed a defamation lawsuit against the reporter, but a Denver judge dismissed the allegations in September.
The case is Blake v. Hong et al.