ACLU of Massachusetts Condemns Arrest of Peaceful Protesters and Use of Free Speech "Pen" During Army Event

June 14, 2005 12:00 am

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CAMBRIDGE, MA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts condemned the arrests today of peaceful protesters by police officers during an event on the Cambridge Common to mark the founding of the United States Army. The ACLU also criticized the police for forcing people to move into a “pen” if they were expressing views critical of U.S. policies.

“What a sad irony that on the day we celebrate our flag and the values for which it stands, the organizers of this event and the Cambridge police have chosen to disregard the right to dissent,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This right ought to be one of the most cherished American values.”

According to witnesses, people wishing to leave the pen were forced by police to leave the Common. Observers said that one man who was simply holding a sign was made to move and the police also forced photographers from the area if they looked like protesters.

The ACLU is asking anyone affected by these police actions or who witnessed them to contact the organization as soon as possible at

The event, sponsored by the city of Cambridge in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Army, was to mark the anniversary of George Washington taking command of the Continental Army on the Cambridge Common in the summer of 1775.

Organizers announced in advance that anyone wishing to question the event or U.S. policy in Iraq would be asked to confine their activities to a small area at a far corner of the Cambridge Common behind a row of barriers in a so-called “free speech area.” ACLU attorneys warned city lawyers late Monday that forcing people into this “pen” because they had signs or leaflets deemed to constitute protest messages would be unconstitutional and the city could be held liable for its actions.

“It is unconstitutional to force people into a protest pen simply because they wish to express a message that is viewed by some authorities as a protest of U.S. policy,” said John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We are concerned by the government’s increasing use of restrictions on peaceful demonstrations for the purposes of presenting a one dimensional view of public support for its policies, particularly when the government achieves this aim by suppression of dissent.”

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