ACLU Sues City of Colorado Springs For Denying Permit to Peaceful Protestors During NATO Conference

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
March 15, 2004 12:00 am

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DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado today sued the City of Colorado Springs, saying that city officials violated the First Amendment when they denied a permit request from six peace and justice activists to hold a protest on a public sidewalk across from a hotel hosting a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference last October.

“The city prohibited our clients from standing in any spot where there was a chance that their message could be communicated to the public,” said Mari Newman, of Killmer & Lane, an ACLU cooperating attorney on the case. “Instead, the city banished our clients to a location three full blocks from the entrance of the hotel, out of sight, where the NATO delegates would not see them, hear them, or even know they were present. In doing so, the city violated our clients’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The Broadmoor Hotel was reserved in its entirety for the NATO conference, which took place from October 8-9, 2003 and was attended by 1,000 delegates from 26 countries. The conference registered nearly 500 media representatives from around the world.

During the period of October 7-11, the city blocked streets, posted barricades, and imposed an unprecedented “security zone” extending for two city blocks around the Broadmoor Hotel property. To reach their homes, residents of the “security zone” were required to pass through checkpoints staffed by police and armed military guards. Persons who did not live in the cordoned-off area and were not associated with the conference were forbidden to enter. Media representatives with pre-approved press credentials were permitted to enter the zone.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of Citizens for Peace in Space (CPIS), a Colorado Springs-based peace organization that has opposed the government’s military and nuclear weapons policies since the unveiling of the “Star Wars” program in the 1980s.

A week before the NATO conference, the ACLU wrote to city officials on behalf of CPIS. The ACLU asked the city to permit a brief, peaceful demonstration in which six CPIS members, identified well in advance, could display signs for one hour at a specified time while standing on the public sidewalk outside the International Center. As the ACLU noted, CPIS had engaged in similar activity without incident numerous times in the past. The group’s members even offered to submit to the identical security procedures as the hundreds of media representatives who were permitted to enter the “security zone.” The letter also pointed out that each of the CPIS members was already well known to the Colorado Springs police as being firmly committed to nonviolence.

Nonetheless, the city refused to permit the CPIS members to enter the “security zone.” Instead, they were required to stand on the opposite side of a security checkpoint on Second Street, more than three blocks from the hotel entrance and more than two blocks from their requested location. This location was on a narrow, unpaved grassy strip between the road and the edge of a ditch. At this location, according to the ACLU lawsuit, the CPIS members could not be seen by delegates at the Broadmoor or by media representatives at the International House.

“In this case, Colorado Springs officials acknowledged that there were no terrorist threats nor any plans for large-scale demonstrations,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “There is a legitimate need to assure the security of the NATO conference, but that cannot justify suppressing all criticism of the government throughout such a large geographic area. Unfortunately, law enforcement has become more and more willing to use ‘security’ as a pretext to insulate public officials from critical viewpoints. For that reason, we are asking the court to rule that Colorado Springs went too far in this case.”

In addition to Citizens for Peace in Space, the ACLU’s clients include William Sulzman, Mary Lynn Sheetz, Sister Barbara Huber, Gerard Jacobitz, Donna Johnson, and April Pergl.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Denver.

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