Many times our National Parks become center stage for demonstrations and expressions of freedom of speech for political, social cause, or religious reasons. Managers of parks do not have the authority to deny anyone their constitutional rights to express themselves, even in National Parks. During my career I was detailed away from my regular duty station to provide security for a number of such events. This included a white supremacist who wanted to demonstrate at Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS in Atlanta on King’s birthday, a Neo Nazi group that wanted to demonstrate at Independence NHS, and anther time when Iranian students protested because they did not want to be sent back to their country following the fall of the Shah.
When groups wanted the opportunity to spread their message in a National Park they were required to obtain a permit from the park superintendent.The permit allowed for the park staff to plan ahead for any extra work or security that would be needed. This could include providing for bathroom facilities for large crowds or vehicle and pedestrian traffic control if necessary. The permit also allowed for management of the demonstration in such manner that it would least impact the resources and other visitors to the park.
A recent D.C. Circuit Court decision may change all that.In relation to freedom of speech activities they ruled:
It is unlawful to engage in expressive activities within any of this country’s 391 national parks unless a park official first issues a permit authorizing the activity. Michael Boardley argues this licensing scheme is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional on its face. We agree. The regulations in their current form are antithetical to the core First Amendment principle that restrictions on free speech in a public forum may be valid only if narrowly tailored. Because these regulations penalize a substantial amount of speech that does not impinge on the government’s interests, we find them overbroad and therefore reverse the district court.
Our National Parks may be directed to redesign their policies and regulations related to demonstrations in our parks.As a result you may be surprised to have your next visit to a park interrupted by individuals trying to get their personal or political agendas across to you.
For more detailed information on the court case go to: