Washington, D.C. October 15, 2018 – In response to a National Parks Service (NPS) proposal to force the public to pay fees for demonstrations at the National Mall, Memorial Parks and President’s Park, 85 environmental, civil rights, and other advocacy organizations released a letter calling the move an attempt to place “a financial barrier that precludes equal opportunity and access, dissuading and prohibiting Americans from demonstrating.”

In August, NPS issued a proposed rulemaking to revise its protest permitting process at the iconic Washington-based sites, which, as the letter notes, have been home to major civil rights, human rights, environmental, and other protests throughout the country’s history, including the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Advocates contend that NPS’s move would infringe on the First Amendment guarantee that Congress “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

The following is a statement from Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Senior Legislative Representative at Earthjustice:

“Many of our iconic national parks are more than just treasured natural spaces – they’ve been gathering places for voices of dissent to challenge our country to live up to its highest ideals. At a time when many believe democracy is facing unprecedented threats in this country, it is more important than ever that we preserve the ability to speak out and protest for all. Earthjustice is proud to call on NPS to defend the bedrock principles of our system of self-government.”

The full text of the letter is available below:

October 15, 2018

Mr. Brian Joyner

Chief of Staff, National Mall and Memorial Parks

National Park Service

900 Ohio Drive SW

Washington, DC 20024

Dear Mr. Joyner:

We write to express our deep concern over proposed rulemaking RIN 1024-AE45, issued August 7, 2018, which would revise the National Park Service’s protest permitting process regarding demonstrations at the National Mall, Memorial Parks, and President’s Park.

This proposal would infringe on Americans’ rights to free speech and assembly. Forcing Americans to pay to lawfully assemble at our most iconic and politically significant sites places a financial barrier that precludes equal opportunity and access, dissuading and prohibiting Americans from demonstrating. The ability to afford fees for permits must not be a factor in who gets the opportunity to protest on these public lands. Introducing fees for First Amendment demonstrations would represent an overwhelming departure from American values.

We strongly urge you to revise the proposed rule and maintain access to vibrant, participatory democracy for all Americans regardless of socioeconomic status or support from wealthy donors. Protesting is a cornerstone of American democracy. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Over centuries, Americans have come together from near and far and lifted their voices, from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech advancing the civil rights movement to the 2017 Women’s March, the largest demonstration in American history. Americans have cried out signifying ardent diversity of thought on a wide variety of issues spanning from war and peace to the economy, the environment, civil rights, human rights, and more. There is a fundamental personal dignity in protest—the insistence that one’s voice matters. Protesting is also a patriotic act, as Americans show up to help steer the path of our country. As we work to fulfill the promise of this country, we must never restrict access to the public lands surrounding its halls of power.

Thank you for your commitment to preserving our cultural history and natural resources. As you work to manage an increase in requests for permits and maintain your commitment to preserving visitor experience, resource protection, and public safety, we trust you will reconsider this proposal and ensure that the right of all Americans to express their beliefs in our nation’s capital will be safeguarded.