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Judge Rules Horse Owner May Display Abortion Rights Symbol on Silks

July 26, 1991

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A horse owner may display an abortion-rights symbol on the back of his jockey silks, a judge said Friday in granting a temporary restraining order against Canterbury Downs racetrack.

The track’s decision to prohibit Stefan Tolin from using the silks caused him irreparable harm by prohibiting free speech, Hennepin County District Judge Ann Alton ruled. She said the track at Shakopee had applied its policy on racing silks in a discriminatory fashion.

The prohibition amounts to ″irreparable harm″ because it permits ″censorship of free speech for even a minimal period of time,″ Alton said.

″I just want to be able to race my silks,″ said Tolin, an abortion-rights advocate and Minneapolis lawyer who owns three horses that race at the track about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

The judge said she would rule later on Tolin’s request for an injunction.

Tolin’s silks were rejected June 27 by Minnesota Racing Commission stewards shortly before Tolin’s 6-year-old mare, Dats Ruby, was to go to post. Tolin’s jockey used the horse trainer’s silks.

Ralph Strangis, chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission, said three stewards disallowed the silks on the basis of a Minnesota racing law that says: ″No symbols, words or emblems shall be worn which, in the opinion of the commission, are not in keeping with the customs of the turf or employed for advertising or promotional purposes.″

The silks, which Tolin designed, depict a coat hanger partly covered by a slash. The word ″Choice″ is above and below the symbol, which is imprinted on a large representation of the Earth.

Tolin’s attorney, Randall Tigue, argued that Canterbury stewards commonly have allowed other silks that carry promotional or religious messages.

Mary Magnuson, a lawyer for the racing commission, argued that Tolin is free to express his beliefs as he wishes in the stands at Canterbury or other places, but said the track itself is not the proper forum for such displays.

The judge did not rule on whether the state racing law regarding silks is unconstitutional.

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