ACLU and Coalition team up to fight proposed National Mall free speech regulations

A letter sent to the House Natural Resources Committee from the American Civil Liberties Union last week has prompted Congress to ask questions about the National Park Service’s proposal to start charging fees for protests staged on the National Mall.

The ACLU delivered the letter on Monday, urging the committee to secure a commitment from Park Service’s acting director Dan Smith to “withdraw proposed rules restricting protesting and demonstration activities on the National Mall, on publicly accessible grounds surrounding the White House, and on other NPS areas in Washington, DC.”

The letter was signed by a broad coalition of stakeholders in addition to the ACLU, including the National Mall Coalition, the Charles Koch Institute, Institute for Free Speech, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, NAACP, and Public Citizen. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) noted, “It isn’t often that we see such divergent groups agree.”

The groups called out the NPS on three initiatives first unveiled in 2018:

  • The NPS proposal would open the door to charging fees for demonstrations and raises significant First Amendment concerns.
  • The NPS proposal would close 80 percent of the White House sidewalk and violate a previous court order.
  • The NPS proposal would limit spontaneous demonstrations and stifle protests and freedom of speech.


Mr. Smith, who was questioned during a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing, told members of Congress he was well aware of the opposition to the plans by numerous organizations.

“Believe me, we got public comment on it,” he said during the hearing.

He contradicted the ACLU letter, saying that these were not actual proposed rules but that the Park Service was just asking “what if that was to be considered” to get public comment on it.

There are roughly 750 First Amendment protests and other First Amendment events annually on the National Mall. Mr. Smith said he and his team are in the process of reviewing 180,000 comments received during last year’s public input phase, 71,000 considered substantive.

The Park Service expects to make a decision on these restricting proposals in the next three months.

“We’re not trying to do anything to take away the First Amendment right in this country, but we do look for ways to try to manage it,” Smith said.


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