The Trump Administration’s National Park Service has proposed to dramatically curtail free speech demonstrations and special events near the White House, on The National Mall and certain national parks in the D.C. metro area.
The proposal would close 80 percent of the White House sidewalk, as well as open the conversation to charging fees for protesting.
The proposed rule, RIN 1024-AE45 states: “The National Park Service proposes to revise special regulations related to demonstrations and special events at certain national park units in the National Capital Region.”
“The proposed changes would modify regulations explaining how the NPS processes permit applications for demonstrations and special events. The rule would also identify locations where activities are allowed, not allowed, or allowed but subject to restrictions.”
Critics of this proposal believe this rule would have a major impact on the cost and effort to hold public vigils, while also restricting and suppressing the first amendment of free speech.
The ACLU sent a letter to the National Park Service asserting this proposal as unconstitutional.
“From the 1960s through the 1990s, the ACLU-DC frequently had to sue over the Park Service’s attempts to impose unconstitutional restrictions on the right to protest,” the letter read.
“In more recent years, the rules have been stable, and NPS has generally respected First Amendment rights. Indeed, the Park Service’s own Foundation Document for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, issued just last year, recognizes that these areas are the “National Stage of Public Expression.”
“But the amendments now proposed harken back to the era in which the courts had to be called upon to protect the right to dissent in the nation’s capital.”
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton vowed fierce congressional action to stop the unconstitutional attempt to limit free speech.
“This is the nation’s capital, the seat of our national democratic government and, consequently, where First Amendment rights are most often exercised on virtually every issue by Americans of all colors, creeds and beliefs,” Norton said.
“The security concerns cited by NPS do not hold water considering the newly enhanced White House fence, which I specifically worked on here in Congress, both to protect the White House and to ensure that public access to the White House sidewalk would in fact be maintained.”
“In addition, charging fees to protest would put a price on free speech and silence those who do not have the means to pay. The feedback NPS receives from its public comment period should dissuade it from pursuing these policies.”
“But, if the Trump Administration chooses to move forward, they will have to deal with me, my colleagues in Congress and, I believe, the courts, to justify these proposals.”