ACLU, Rutherford Institute say permit revocation violates First Amendment – The Charlottesville Newsplex

Posted: August 9, 2017 at 4:52 am

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the Rutherford Institute say a decision to move the Unite the Right rally to McIntire Park raises First Amendment concerns.

According to a letter sent to Charlottesville city officials, the "belated demand" to move the Aug. 12 demonstration from Emancipation Park "undermines [the] ability of demonstrators to effectively communicate their message."

The letter also calls the timing and justification for the demand a "callous disrespect for the rights of free speech and assembly."

Jason Kessler submitted a request for a permit to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park about two months ago.

According to an annotation on the letter, city code says requests for demonstration permits are deemed granted unless they are denied within ten business days following the application.

Kessler has said the protest will still take place in front of the Lee statue despite the city's actions regarding the permit on Monday.

"We are going to exercise our First Amendment rights no matter what," he said on Monday. "At this point, this is a civil rights issue. They have done everything in their power to deny me and my friends our civil rights and we're going to fight that."

"The city must provide factual evidence to support its attendance estimate and justify revoking the permit to demonstrate in Emancipation Park," said the letter. "While the city relies upon a forecast that 'many thousands' will attend the event, it has not disclosed the sources of the information it is relying on for that estimate and whether such sources have any factual basis. When First Amendment rights are at stake, the city should be transparent about the evidence and information underlying its action so that citizens can be sure that fears of overcrowding are not simply a pretext for censorship and meet the requirement for proof that a compelling government interest underlies its decision."

The organizations call the city's justification for revoking the permit specious in light of approval for permits for counter demonstrations on the same day in Justice and McGuffey parks that are reportedly expecting more than 1,000 people to attend.

They also say the city's decision amounts to a "hecklers' veto," saying the revocation violates the principle that the rights of speech and assembly cannot be restricted because one group may be met with opposition.

"The city must act in accordance with the law, even if doing so is distasteful to members of the community who disagree with the views espoused by the Unite the Right organizers," added the letter. "At the very least, the city must explain in more than just generalities its reasons for concluding that the demonstration cannot safely be held in Emancipation Park."

The ACLU and the Rutherford Institute are asking for a response from the city by Aug. 9.

To read the full letter and its annotations, click on the document in the Related Documents box.

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ACLU, Rutherford Institute say permit revocation violates First Amendment - The Charlottesville Newsplex

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