ACLU of Pennsylvania Sues City of Philadelphia Over Free Speech Restrictions During DNC

June 23, 2016 11:15 am

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PHILADELPHIA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against Philadelphia today against on behalf of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, a social justice coalition that was denied a permit to hold a march downtown during the Democratic National Convention.

“We are filing the lawsuit today because the last thing that poor people have is their voice, and we can’t allow our voice to be taken away,” said Cheri Honkala, head of PPEHRC.

“We are outraged that we have been denied our rights to march. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: ‘the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.’”

PPEHRC applied for a permit to march from City Hall to the doorstep of the DNC on July 25, the official opening day of the convention, to confront the Democratic Party leadership with the continuing failure of the government to address the suffering of poor people. The time and the route was chosen to enable their message to be seen and heard by the greatest number of visitors and Philadelphians, and marchers would reach FDR Park approximately the same time that the DNC formally starts inside the Wells Fargo Center.

The city of Philadelphia refused to issue a permit for the march because it would fall within the city’s unwritten ban on marches in Center City streets during the hours of 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. However, according to the complaint, the city routinely authorizes extended street closures on Center City streets during this time on weekdays, as evidenced by a list on the city’s own events webpage. This past spring, the city has closed Center City streets during so-called rush hour for victory parades, block parties, and restaurant events.

The city also routinely allows protests in Center City during supposed “rush” hours at the discretion of the police. The refusal to grant a permit, however, leaves protesters to take their chances on whether the police will stop or allow their protest.

The complaint argues that the city cannot give block parties and celebrations more access to the streets than is given protest groups, and that barring any street protests for five hours out of every weekday is an unjustified restriction on protest.

“Political conventions are a time when the nation’s attention is focused on the problems facing our country. It is vital to our democracy that there be every opportunity for public participation in that national conversation,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

PPEHRC and thousands of poor residents of the city marched peacefully from City Hall to the Wells Fargo Center on the opening day of the Republican National Convention in 2000 along the same route.

PPEHRC is a multi-racial, intergenerational movement made up of poor, low-income, and homeless families across the country. It is organized around the universal declaration of human rights and is dedicated to taking up where Dr. Martin Luther King left off on building a poor people’s movement. Its goal is to eliminate poverty.

A copy of the complaint is available here:

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