New York Civil Liberties Union Threatens Lawsuit Over City's "Misguided" Ban on Central Park Protests

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 18, 2005 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today testified that the proposed Parks & Recreation regulation to restrict protest activity on the Great Lawn in Central Park, ostensibly to protect the grass, is misguided and unconstitutional and threatened to sue if the proposal is adopted. The NYCLU said in testimony before the Parks & Recreation Committee of the City Council that the proposed protest ban which restricts the number of non-city approved events to just two per year, neither of which can exceed 50,000 people, amounts to a violation of the rights of protesters.

“Central Park should be as accessible to rock music and political protest as it is to the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “It is our town square and must be opened to all regardless of the medium or the message.”

The NYCLU testified about specific problems with the Parks Department proposal. The proposal limits protests with more than 20 people to just two events per year, which effectively makes the Great Lawn off-limits to all protest activity, regardless of the risk it poses to the grass. In limiting the two allowed protest events to no more than 50,000 people, the proposal closes the only open space in Manhattan that can accommodate large demonstrations. This would send such demonstrations into the streets, creating enormous burdens on both organizers and the NYPD.

“High level officials from the NYPD have made it clear that public safety considerations strongly favor putting large events in Central Park rather than having them on the street,” said Christopher Dunn, NYCLU Associate Legal Director. “If the trade-off the City faces is damage to the grass versus free speech and public safety, then the First Amendment and public safety considerations should win out.”

The NYCLU also testified that limiting protest events to just two a year while allowing four events on the Great Lawn for groups favored by the city (the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic), puts those who the city does not favor at a disadvantage, violating their rights.

The NYCLU also pointed out that events involving dozens, hundreds or even a few thousand people pose no threat to the well-being of the grass of the Great Lawn. The Parks Department’s effort to preserve the grass does not justify this proposed the sweeping ban.

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