Town officials told to remove restrictions on demonstrations or face legal challenge

Berryville, VA -- The ACLU of Virginia today told government officials in the Town of Berryville to repeal an ordinance that makes it unreasonably difficult to hold public demonstrations, or to face a court challenge to the ordinance’s constitutionality. The ACLU represents the Virginia Organizing Project, which was recently dissuaded from holding a demonstration in Berryville after being made aware of the ordinance.
“Demonstrations are an important way we bring our message to the public,” said Janice “Jay” Johnson, Chairperson of the Virginia Organizing Project. “The obstacles thrown in our way by the Berryville ordinance make it impossible for us to make people aware of important public issues.”
“For more than 10 years, the Virginia Organizing Project has been holding public demonstrations with local people in communities across the state on a wide range of issues, and this is the first time that we have been blocked from having a public action,” Johnson said. “We wanted to hold a candlelight vigil about the need for affordable housing. I just don’t understand why we couldn’t do that, especially when we are trying to address a critical need identified by local people.”
“It’s hard to imagine any greater affront to American citizens than having government officials tell us we can’t freely gather in public places to express our views,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “In more than 20 years of dealing with local ordinances that regulate demonstrations in Virginia, I’ve never seen a more restrictive one. The Berryville ordinance can be used to prohibit practically all public gatherings.”
Some of the provisions of the Berryville demonstration ordinance follow:
  • A permit is required for any demonstration by three or more persons.
  • The cost for a permit is $300.
  • Only two demonstrations per year by the same group in the same place are allowed.
  • Demonstrations can be denied because they are “detrimental to the public convenience.”
  • Liability insurance may be required in any amount approved by the town council.
  • On weekdays, demonstrations are allowed only between 10 a.m. and noon, and 1:00 p.m and 3:00 p.m.
The demands from the ACLU and VOP are outlined in a letter faxed earlier today from ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg to the Town Manager and Mayor of Berryville. Glenberg asks for written assurances by April 4 that enforcement of the ordinance has ceased and that steps are being taken to repeal it. A copy of Glenberg’s letter is available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080321-Berryvile-Demonstration-Ordinance.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis or Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU, (office) 804/644-8022 Joe Szakos, Executive Director, Virginia Organizing Project (cell) 434/981-0885

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