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Capitol Square Should Be Permit-Free For Protesters, Says ACLU

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Protests are limited to one corner of Richmond's Capitol Square.
Taber Andrew Bain: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/524857662
Protests are limited to one corner of Richmond's Capitol Square.

The ACLU of Virginia is calling on Gov. Terry McAuliffe to revise regulations limiting citizens from expressing their views to public officials. The organization says the move comes after 31 protesters were arrested in 2012 for straying outside a designated area on the state's Capitol Square in Richmond.

The ACLU's Rebecca Glenberg says that most recently, the Family Foundation was denied a permit to gather for a National Day of Prayer event at noon because the requested time slot is restricted. Glenberg notes that the ACLU’s letter lists seven restrictions, which she says are not only vague, but also violate free speech. She says one is confining events to just one small place on the Capitol grounds.

"A lot of groups have had a problem with the limitation of demonstrations to the Bell Tower," Glenberg says. "Because when you're over at the Bell Tower, which is sort of in a far away corner in Capitol Square, it's difficult to communicate to those whom you most want to reach."

And the ACLU opposes requiring even small groups to get a permit to assemble — without exception. The organization also says officials can deny permits based on the content of speech and other considerations that it calls “unlawful.”

Glenberg says Capitol Square is a quintessential public forum. These restrictions, she says, undermine Virginians’ right to speak out and protest their government.

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