A legal brouhaha is about to hit Dallas after the City Council decided to ban a porn convention from the city-owned convention center. Council members voted 8-7 on Wednesday to say “no” to the gathering because Mayor Mike Rawlings wanted to protect the city’s brand (via The Dallas Morning News).

Rawlings said last week it was his “civic obligation to protect the city and our citizens” when explaining why he proposed the resolution calling for the ban. And he said Wednesday that as the city’s “chief brand manager … I do not believe this event is good for our city’s brand.”

He said that, yes, voting to ban Exxxotica might well draw a lawsuit — and that was fine with him… And, Rawlings said, he was not about to hide behind a judge’s robes — or, even, the Constitution.

“This is a business that participates in the commerce of sex,” he said, “and we have a way to do that in our city, and I don’t believe it should be at a city-run venue.”

For the record, I have zero interest in attending a porn convention and I’m really not sure why someone would go to one. But there’s something about this vote which bothers me because it involves public property. If the city is willing to ban a porn show from appearing at the convention center, what’s to stop them from banning a gun show, a church/mosque/synagogue/Viking temple gathering, or a comic book show? One friend of mine disagreed with this opinion, saying the expo isn’t guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution:

https://twitter.com/RockwallSciGuy/status/697897847744647168

The problem is the convention IS guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution under the “right of the people to peacefully to assemble” in the First Amendment and Section 1 of the 14th Amendment under the “ No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. ” It’s not like the porn convention broke the law when it came to Dallas last year (something Dallas’ own police chief told the City Council). So for the City Council to say, “we have to pass an ordinance banning the convention because having this in our town would hurt our reputation” is ludicrous. The better avenue was proposed by City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates to condemn the convention and still allow it to go on. There’s nothing stopping Rawlings, Gates, churches, and nonprofits from holding a protest outside the convention center against what’s going on inside the convention center (this was actually done last year without any problems). It’s the same strategy used by abortion clinic protesters. It’s not going to stop everyone from going into the event, but it might stop a few because of the chance at the public shame.

This also brings up another issue: the fact the convention center is owned by the city. It’s a legal grey area because there are fees groups have to pay before they’re allowed to host an event. If the convention center was private, there wouldn’t be a debate over the issue (and the convention organizers are suing) because it would be a contract between two private entities. The private owners of the convention center could say to the organizers, “No thanks, we don’t want your money, enjoy your refund,” and it’s doubtful a judge would rule against them because of due process in the 14th Amendment. Dallas could also reap property taxes off a privatized convention center because it’s in a great spot in downtown. The reason the city won’t do this is they want their money and the $70K fee to host a convention is $70K. It’s “free money” to a city which is in dire financial straits and needs to make as much money as possible to cover a $1.7B debt.

I completely understand why Rawlings and the rest of the City Council don’t want Exxxotica in the convention center. But their decision to ban it under the guise of protecting Dallas isn’t going to hold water. This is the same City Council which had to pay $270K to settle a lawsuit about protests near highways, got rid of another protest ordinance which kept protesters from being on bridges and overpasses, and had a federal judge tell them their rules on feeding the homeless were unconstitutional. We don’t live in a church, we live in a country with guaranteed rights. This means the porn convention is protected by the First Amendment, just like a gun convention and a religious convention. What would Dallas want their reputation to be: the city which shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight unconstitutional laws or the city which is willing to let everyone play by the same rules, regardless of how unseemly it might be?