ACLU of Virginia Defended Group Protesting War in AfghanistanIn a case brought by the ACLU of Virginia, a Circuit Court judge in Lynchburg has ruled that the city's ordinance restricting the right of people to gather in public places is unconstitutional.
The ACLU represented Jack Payden-Travers, who was charged with violating the ordinance last November when he and seven other members of the Lynchburg Peace Education Center gathered at Monument Terrace in downtown Lynchburg to protest U.S. military actions in Afghanistan .
Lynchburg 's ordinance requires a permit for groups of six or more individuals who plan to gather in a public place for a meeting, demonstration, picket line, or rally. Although the First Amendment protects the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," the courts have allowed government officials to create reasonable rules to insure public safety, so long as those rules do not discriminate against those who have assembled based on the content of their speech.
"Our lawyers argued that in the United States a half-dozen people planning to gather to protest on a city sidewalk or in front of City Hall should not need permission from the government," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "We are pleased that the judge agreed with us."
"In some ways, the ordinance seemed almost absurd. It actually required six people who decide in advance to meet for lunch in a public park to obtain a permit," added Willis. "In other ways it is scary. I am sure that framers of the Constitution would be appalled to discover that some of the meetings they held to draw up the Bill of Rights would require government approval in Lynchburg ."
On December 10, 2001 , the Lynchburg General District Court ordered Payden-Travers to pay a $50 fine and court costs for violating the ordinance. Attorney David P. Baugh, who along with ACLU legal director Rebecca Glenberg, represents Payden-Travers for the ACLU, appealed the decision to the Lynchburg Circuit Court, which heard arguments on February 25, 2002 . Judge Mosby G. Perrow,III, who issued his ruling yesterday, presided..
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 David P. Baugh, Baugh & Associates, Richmond, VA, 804-643-8111