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Shopping mall mulls Supreme Court bid to back no-speaking ban

Talking to strangers? You're under arrest

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A California shopping mall may ask the State Supreme Court to defend its ban on its patrons speaking to one another except to ask where the toilet is.

Judges on the 3rd District Court of Appeal last week ruled that the Westfield Galleria in Roseville's ban on a visitor "approaching patrons with whom he or she was not previously acquainted for the purpose of communicating with them on a topic unrelated to the business interests [of the mall and its tenants]" was, on the face of it, unconstitutional.

The ban on strangers speaking to each other emerged when security staff felt the collar of Matthew Snatchko, a youth pastor who had gone there to spread the good news to strangers, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Snatchko apparently found three young women who were happy to discuss his beliefs in a common area of the mall. However, a store employee was troubled by Snatchko's demagoguery and called security.

When Snatchko refused to stop talking to the women or leave the mall, the security team put him under "citizen's arrest", slapped on the cuffs, and handed him over to local cops. They apparently released him, and the charges were dropped.

Snatchko then, unsurprisingly, sued the mall and the security firm, and as the Bee puts it, is seeking "damages in an unspecified amount for false imprisonment, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, malicious prosecution, and a general violation of his rights under California's Civil Rights Act".

While the damages claim is predictable, the fact that Westfield apparently bans patrons from talking to one another without a formal introduction has made people sit up.

The mall insisted this was an oversimplification, saying that visitors were welcome to speak to strangers - as long as they had previously filled out an application to do so, and that this had been approved by the mall. The Bee reports that during the deposition process, Snatchko's attorney asked the mall's manager whether saying "Hey, hope you're supporting the Patriots" or "Hope you're supporting the Giants this week" would violate the rule.

The manager replied, "You can go in and again fill out a third-party access, if that's what a person chooses to do."

Westfield said it was disappointed with the decision, and was considering its options, including an appeal to the California Supreme Court. ®

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