Berryville, VA – Less than a month after the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Virginia Organizing Project threatened to file a lawsuit, the Town Council of Berryville has repealed its old demonstration and parade ordinance and passed a new one.
VOP scuttled plans for a demonstration in Berryville earlier this year after organizers were told they must first comply with Berryville’s onerous permit process. The ACLU of Virginia agreed to represent VOP in mounting a court challenge to the ordinance, but first asked Berryville to voluntarily bring the ordinance into compliance with the First Amendment.
"We are glad the Town of Berryville has acted quickly to correct the major problems with this ordinance," said Janice “Jay” Johnson, Chairperson of the Virginia Organizing Project.
“Berryville town officials are to be lauded for moving swiftly and decisively to rid themselves of their blatantly unconstitutional demonstration ordinance,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We’re still looking at the fine points of the new ordinance to make certain it passes constitutional muster, but there is no doubt it is greatly improved.”
"The Virginia Organizing Project works hard to empower Virginians who are excluded and disrespected,” Johnson said. “We were organizing for the needs of low-income tenants in Berryville when we ran into difficulty trying to do a public candlelight vigil. But whatever the issue, we know that when government limits free speech and assembly, it hits those with fewest resources the hardest. The Virginia ACLU has once again shown itself to be a priceless resource for Virginians who are using their constitutional rights to improve their lives."
Below are some comparisons between the old and new Berryville ordinances:
- The original ordinance required a permit for any demonstration by 3 or more persons. A permit under the new ordinance is triggered by demonstrations of 10 or more.
- A permit under the original ordinance was $300. There is now no cost for a permit.
- The original ordinance allowed only two demonstrations per year by the same group in the same place. There is now no limit on demonstrations in a year.
- The original ordinance allowed permits to be denied when a demonstration might be “detrimental to the public convenience.” This phrase has been removed altogether.
- The original ordinance required liability insurance in any amount decided by the town council. There is now no insurance requirement.
- The original ordinance allowed weekday demonstrations only between 10 a.m. and noon, and 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. There are now no set time restrictions.
“This is why elected officials should never pass laws in reaction to a particular incident, especially one to which there was a strong emotional response,” said Willis. “Any high school student could have told them the ordinance violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against restricting free speech and the right to assemble in public places.”
Despite the improvements, the ACLU is concerned that the new ordinance gives town officials too much discretion to turn down permits for parades and assemblies that may interfere with traffic or that may divert fire and police personnel. According to the ACLU, parades and large assemblies, by their very nature, require traffic patterns to be altered and for fire and police personnel to be placed on alert. The ACLU of Virginia legal team will conduct a thorough review of the new ordinance and share any concerns they have with town officials.
Contacts: Kent Willis, ACLU, (office) 804/644-8022 Joe Szakos, Executive Director, Virginia Organizing Project (cell) 434/981-0885