In a setback to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the California Supreme Court has ruled that the soliciting being done by the Hare Krishna members at the busy Los Angeles airport is illegal.
The California Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a Los Angeles ordinance that makes it illegal to ask for money on the sidewalks and in the terminals of the Los Angeles International Airport, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
As such, the ruling rejected a series of federal court decisions that had allowed ISKCON -- the Hare Krishna organisation -- to ask people for money at the Los Angeles airport since 1997, when the local ordinance was enacted.
According to The Los Angeles Times, travelers often are in a hurry, and the airport often is crowded, Justice Carlos R Moreno wrote for the court. Panhandling may increase congestion, cause travelers to miss flights, and subject them to possible intimidation and even fraud, he said.
The Hare Krishna society has "ample alternative means of conveying its message," Moreno wrote.
"It can distribute literature and speak to willing travelers. It can even seek financial support, as long as it does not request the immediate exchange of funds," he said.
David Liberman, an attorney for the Hare Krishnas, called the court's decision 'disgusting' and predicted that it would encourage shopping centres and other similar forums to ban soliciting.
"They finally get rid of the Hare Krishnas, which is what they wanted to do all along," Liberman was quoted as saying by The Los Angeles Times.
David Liberman told the San Francisco Chronicle that the fundraising in many areas of the airport -- sidewalks, arrival areas, food courts -- could easily be done without disrupting pedestrian traffic or hampering security.
He said the ruling will be devastating for the Hare Krishnas. "This was their major facility for reaching people and distributing religious literature," Liberman said.
Although the ordinance allows solicitors to hand out material and ask for future donations, Liberman said that wouldn't work for his clients, whose book-sized handouts cost between $4 and $5 to print.
The Christian Science Monitor said the Hare Krishnas' legal trail has stretched back over two decades. In 1992, ISKCON filed a suit against New York City airports, claiming that a ban on solicitation in terminals violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
After winning in the district court and losing in the circuit court, the ISKCON lost its case in the US Supreme Court, it said.
The Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition was constitutional because an airport terminal is not a 'public forum'.
Furthermore, solicitation is disruptive in crowded, busy spaces and negatively affects business there, said the court.