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NYCLU Calls Park Protest Ban Misguided; Threatens To Sue

The New York Civil Liberties Union presented comments today at the Parks & Recreation Department hearings that the proposed regulation to restrict protest activity on the Great Lawn in Central Park, ostensibly to protect the grass, is misguided and unconstitutional. The NYCLU threatened to sue if the proposed are adopted without significant change. The proposed protest ban which restricts the number of non-city approved events on the Great Lawn 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 objects to specific provisions of 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 objects 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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