California high court hears case involving Hare Krishna push to solicit donations at airport

San Francisco, USA - A decades-long dispute between Hare Krishnas and the Los Angeles International Airport over soliciting donations appears to be nearing a resolution, as the California Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether the airport is a public place.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California argues that the airport is much like a public park, and should therefore be open to solicitors.

California's other major airports are supporting Los Angeles' position that airports are private property. Such a finding would support a ban on solicitations, which airport officials say are security risks and impede travelers.

The Hare Krishna group sued in 1997, but the case goes back to 1974 when the religious organization first began soliciting donations at the airport commonly referred to as LAX.

Since then, airport officials complain that numerous other groups and individuals have flocked to LAX to solicit donations.

The Los Angeles City Council passed a law in 1997 prohibiting the receiving of donations at the city-owned airport. The council later changed the law to allow solicitations in designated areas until the initial federal lawsuit was filed.

Lawyers for the city argue that they always had the right to prohibit such behavior but their authority increased even more after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when airports were required to tighten security.

In 2006, a federal trial judge in Los Angeles sided with the city, finding that the airport is a "nonpublic" forum.

The religious group appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which referred the case to the state Supreme Court to determine whether the airport is private or public property.

If the state Supreme Court decides that the airport is public property, Los Angeles city officials will have to overcome a bigger legal hurdle to enforce the prohibition.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule within 90 days.