Permitting Demonstrations: Guiding Principles
Protestors have the right to express themselves, gather peacefully, and ask the government to address their concerns. The government sets the rules regulating protests and demonstrations. The regulations cannot, however, favor one side over another and must be necessary to protect public safety and order. The ACLU of Virginia prepares a white paper titled Permitting Demonstrations: Guiding Principles, which summarizes the legal principles that should guide a governmental entity in permitting protests and demonstrations. Listed below are the principles recommended by the ACLU-VA to guide permitting decisions:
- No permitting decisions will be made based on the content of the speech (including anticipated audience reaction to the content of the speech) or the identity of the speaker.
- No permits will be required for individuals or small groups (under 20 people), or for spontaneous demonstrations held in response to current events.
- Permit regulations will specify the number of days in advance of demonstrations that permit applications must be submitted, which will be no longer than 6 days.
- Permit regulations will specify the number of days within which decisions on permit applications will be made, which will be no longer than 3 days.
- Permit regulations will specify that all permit applications will be granted unless specific, contentneutral, and narrowly defined exceptions apply. Examples of such exceptions are: another person has reserved the same space for the same time; or the demonstration will interfere with pedestrian passage or traffic.
- Permit regulations will require decisions on permit applications to be in writing, and denials of applications to state the reasons for the denial, and the time frame and method of appealing the denial.
- Permit regulations may specify that a permit may be denied when there is a well-founded belief based on concrete evidence that the permit applicant will engage in violent or unlawful conduct.
- Permit regulations shall provide that a permit will not be revoked without notice and an opportunity to contest the revocation; notice shall be given promptly to provide the applicant enough time to seek an alternative venue or to challenge the revocation.
- Permits may include reasonable, content-neutral limitations on the size of events based solely on administrative considerations, such as the capacity of the available space and legitimate law enforcement needs, but discretion to impose such limits may not be unfettered.
- Any other restrictions on free speech will be reasonable, content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to legitimate government interests, and will allow ample alternative means of communication. Fees may be imposed only for the costs directly caused by the speaker, not for the costs imposed by the reaction to the speaker, and only if they don’t practically preclude the First Amendment activity.
The full paper is attached below.