ACLU Asks Manassas City Council to Reject Proposed Restrictions on Speech and Assembly

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
February 22, 2010 12:00 am

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Civil liberties organization says portions of new ordinance controlling the use of public streets, sidewalks and parks infringes on First Amendment rights

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CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Manassas, VA — The ACLU of Virginia today asked the City of Manassas to reject a proposed ordinance imposing unconstitutional restrictions on public assemblies. Manassas City Council is set to vote on the ordinance at its meeting this evening.

“The ordinance seems benign at first blush,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but spend a few moments with it, and you’ll see that it makes it a lot harder and more expensive to organize a demonstration in Manassas, and that it gives government officials excessive control over who gets to demonstrate and who doesn’t.”

“We fear that this ordinance will be used to deter all sizable demonstrations from taking place in Manassas,” added Willis. “That’s a violation of both the spirit and letter of the First Amendment.”

In a letter emailed earlier today to Manassas City Council, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg writes that a provision of the ordinance giving city officials the authority to reject applications for demonstrations that “present a clear and present danger to public health or safety” is too vague and broad to be understood by either the city officials responsible for implementing it or the citizens required to follow it.

Glenberg indicates that this provision would not only give public officials too much discretion to deny permits based on guesswork and assumptions about potential threats to public safety, but that it could also be used to illegally stop demonstrations based on their purpose. Under the First Amendment, the government may not discriminate against demonstrators based on their political views.

Glenberg also objects to the requirement that organizers of events be required to submit security plans to city officials for some kinds of demonstrations, pay for costs incurred by the city to host events, and to obtain insurance. Another provision making event organizers responsible for damages caused by the participants appears to be a direct violation of a Supreme Court ruling.

A copy of the Glenberg’s letter to the Manassas City Council can be found online at: acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/20100222ManassasParadeOrdinanceLetter.pdf

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