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New York Civil Liberties Union sues Mayor Giuliani over NYPD rules limiting First Amendment activity on steps of City Hall.

Late yesterday the New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal district court against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Police Commissioner Howard Safir, and the City of New York challenging the constitutionality of recent efforts by the NYPD to limit press conferences and protest activity on the steps of City Hall to 25 persons. The case was assigned to Judge Harold Baer, who has scheduled a hearing for noon on Friday, July 17, 1998, to consider the NYCLU’s request for an emergency order.

The NYCLU brought the suit on behalf of Housing Works, Inc, a private, not-for-profit, membership organization that provides housing and services to and advocates on behalf of persons living with AIDS and HIV in New York City. Housing Works has scheduled a press conference and rally for Tuesday, July 21, 1998, to announce the release of a report commemorating the one-year anniversary of Local Law 49 (1997), which codified the existence of the New York City Division of AIDS Services and mandated the provision of certain services to persons afflicted with AIDS. The City has refused to let the event take place as planned because Housing Works expects 50 people to participate and the City asserts that it will not permit any event with more than 25 persons to take place on the steps of City Hall.

The steps of City Hall are among the most important of sites for political protest directed against the City government, and no legal basis exists for limiting such protests to 25 people, said Christopher Dunn, a Staff Attorney with the NYCLU. For many years the City has permitted far larger events to take place — including two within the last two months — and this new restriction unreasonably limits essential First Amendment activity.

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