Civil liberties group tells Police Chief to issue permit and advises Town Council to revise parade and assembly ordinances to comply with First Amendment.Farmville, VA - The ACLU of Virginia sent separate letters today to Farmville’s Chief of Police and its Town Council, asking the former to issue a parade permit to local protesters and the latter to significantly revise its ordinances controlling parades and demonstrations.
The ACLU is acting on a complaint from Jeff Winder, an organizer for The People United, which is seeking a permit to protest the construction of a new detention center for undocumented immigrants in Farmville. Winder was recently told by Farmville Police Chief Stuart Dunnavant that there was no process for obtaining a parade permit in Farmville and that The People United would have to seek permission from the Town Council at one of its meetings.
Research by the ACLU, however, indicated that under Farmville’s Town Code, the Police Chief has sole authority to issue parade permits. The ACLU has asked the Police Chief to respond to Winder’s request within the three days required under the local ordinance.
The ACLU’s research also revealed unconstitutionally restrictive provisions in Farmville’s town code governing parades and assemblies. Specifically, the ACLU finds unconstitutional provisions that prohibit assemblies attended by noise and boisterousness, shouting, clapping or singing that disturbs tranquility of the community, that require marchers to be in single file and no more than ten feet apart, that ban demonstrations of more than six people before any business or public facility, that prohibit anyone under 18 years old from demonstrating, and that restrict carried signs to 24 x 28 inches or less.
“The right to gather and demonstrate is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and an integral aspect of free expression,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Farmville officials need to act immediately to make sure they fully understand their own process for issuing permits for parades and demonstrations, and that the rules for such gatherings are in accordance with the constitutional right of freedom of expression and assembly.”
A copy of the letters sent from ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg to the Farmville Chief of Police and Town Council are available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20090113-Farmville-ordinances.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis: 804-644-8022