Testimony: Proposal To Limit First Amendment Activity In Central Park
Editor’s Note: The following statement by the NYCLU was delivered to both the NYC Parks & Recreation Department hearing on the matter (May 20, 2005) as well as to the Parks & Recreation Committee of the NY City Council as indicated below. Testimony Of Donna Lieberman, Executive Director Of The New York Civil Liberties Union before New York City Council Parks & Recreation Committee regarding Proposal by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Limiting the Use of the Great Lawn for First Amendment Activities The New York Civil Liberties Union submits this testimony in response to the proposal recently published by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation that would restrict protest activity on the Great Lawn of Central Park to two events a year, neither of which could exceed 50,000 participants. We believe the proposal is misguided and unconstitutional, and if it is adopted as proposed we are prepared to challenge it in court. For generations the Great Lawn has been the site of expressive events, large and small. This is not surprising, given the Great Lawn’s national symbolic significance and the fact that it is uniquely configured to cater to large, public events. In the name of protecting the grass, however, the Park’s Department’s proposal would end this tradition. The Parks Department’s proposal suffers from three serious problems:
- By limiting protests with more than 20 people to two events per year, the proposal effectively makes the Great Lawn off-limits to all protest activity, regardless of the risk such activity might pose to the grass.
- By limiting the two allowed protests to no more than 50,000 people, the proposal closes the only open space in Manhattan that can accommodate demonstrations or more than 50,000 people. Under the proposal, the most important demonstrations would have to take place on city streets – a disaster both for organizers and the police – or must take place in another borough or in New Jersey.
- By limiting protest events to two a year but allocating four events on the Great Lawn for two groups favored by the City (the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic), the proposal impermissibly privileges events supported by the City and discriminates against events that the City does not support.