A Virginia man is suing his city for blocking his protest in a park where a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed while granting activists who support the decision permission to rally nearby.
Jason Kessler, defended by the Rutherford Institute, filed the suit against the city of Charlottesville in federal court arguing the First Amendment doesn’t allow the city to block one protester based on his viewpoint and then allow another with an opposing viewpoint.
The case alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
“Tolerance is a double-edged sword It has to go both ways. This governmental exercise in intolerance and censorship of speech that may be distasteful to the majority of the populace is exactly what the First Amendment was intended to prevent,” said John W. Whitehead, president of Rutherford.
Sen. Tom Coburn has come up with the answer to a Washington bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care about the Constitution, or American people: An Article V convention, which he describes in “Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.”
“Ironically, it was these very same tactics that local governments attempted to use to silence First Amendment activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers and shut down their protest activities. You either believe in free speech for everyone – no matter their viewpoints – or you don’t,” he said.
Along with the removal of the Lee statue, Charlottesville changed the name of the public land from Lee Park to Emancipation Park.
City officials revoked Kessler’s permit only five days before his long-planned demonstration in the park.
The city demanded that the event be moved to another location more than a mile away.
However, Rutherford said two other groups that oppose Kessler’s message, which have called on thousands of protesters to attend, have been granted permits by the city for downtown parks only blocks away from Emancipation Park on Aug. 12.
In June, Kessler was granted permission to hold his “Unite the Right” rally. But on Aug. 7, he was informed that he could not hold it unless he moved it to a park a mile away.
The complaint says the city claimed that “many thousands” would attend the Unite the Right event and that the park could not safely accommodate a crowd of that size.
The attendance estimates, however, are “unsupported by evidence” and a “pretext” for censoring him, the complaint contends.
Named as defendants are city manager Maurice Jones and the city.
“The First Amendment guarantees political speech, including protest, the highest level of protection – and the right to speak out is most robust in traditional public fora, including public parks and streets,” the complaint states. “Since this country’s founding people have taken to the parks, streets, and sidewalks to make their voices heard on matters of public concern. This case is about viewpoint discrimination by defendants against plaintiff.”
It continues: “While the government may impose narrowly drawn time, place and manner restrictions on the exercise of the rights to speak, petition or assemble, including permit requirements, the First Amendment prohibits the government from blocking a protest based on contest or viewpoint, or based on how the government anticipates others will respond to the protest.”
The park name change happened only a few weeks ago.
“Plaintiff opposes both the name change and the planned removal of the statute. To communicate his political message, plaintiff sought to organize a ‘Unite the Right’ rally in the park to express opposition,” the complaint states.
The city later demanded he move to McIntire Park, located a mile away and unrelated to the subject of his protest.
However, the complaint says, officials granted permits for demonstrations opposing Kessler’s views to take place in Justice and McGuffey Parks, “located just blocks away from Emancipation Park.”
The complaint states the city “has expressed a preference for the counter-protesters.”
“On August 9, 2017, a spokeswoman for the city encouraged individuals to ‘consider attending events [on counter programming to the rally],’ The city has never encouraged individuals to consider attending plaintiff’s rally,” the complaint notes.
Sen. Tom Coburn has come up with the answer to a Washington bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care about the Constitution or the American people: An Article V convention, which he describes in “Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.”