The American Civil Liberties Union has protested legislation, already passed by both houses of Congress, that would restrict solicitation of funds at airports by religious and other nonprofit groups.
The proposed restrictions are in a rider that was attached to the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act, which passed the House and Senate last Oct. 22. The report of the conference committee, reconciling the differences in House and Senate versions, is expected to be acted on this week.
A rider added to the bill by Sen. Robert Morgan (D-NC) would require the Federal Aviation Administration administrator to "regulate the access to public areas" by representatives of nonprofit groups who solicit funds or distribute literature.
Only FAA-operated airports -- National and Dulles -- are affected. The measure proposes that would-be solicitors be required to apply for a permit for their activities. Each solicitor would be required to display "proper identification and the airport authorities could restrict the number of such solicitors or even confine them within "limited areas and times."
In a letter to members of Congress, the ACLU complained that "the language of this section invites a broad, standardless delegation of power by the federal government over constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free exercise of religion."
Travelers have complained that cult members accost them in airports, thrusting literature in their hands or pinning flowers on them and then demanding contributions.
"Accosting people is just not free speech," said a spokesman for Morgan in response to the ACLU complaint.