After receiving letter from the ACLU of Virginia attorney, city official rescinds $500,000 insurance requirement for Tea Party organizers

Newport News, VA – At the urging of the ACLU of Virginia, Newport News city officials have granted a permit to the Hampton Roads Tea Party for a demonstration opposing health care reforms scheduled for tomorrow.
Organizers of the demonstration --scheduled for Friday in front of Congressman Robert C. Scott’s office -- had been told that they must obtain $500,000 in liability insurance in order to receive a permit.
In a letter sent yesterday morning to Everett P. Skipper, Newport News’s Director of Engineering, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg said the city may not impose insurance requirements for use of a traditional public forum. Glenberg also noted other deficiencies in Newport News’s demonstration permit process, in particular the requirement that permit applications be submitted three weeks in advance of the date of the demonstration and the fact that one city official is given unlimited authority to decide who gets a permit and who does not.
Skipper responded to the ACLU’s request yesterday afternoon, writing that the demonstration permit would be issued without the insurance requirement and that his Department “will be in discussion with the City Attorney’s office regarding revisions to the ordinance and applications for similar events.”
“We are pleased that officials at Newport News responded so quickly and that the demonstration can now take place,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “All too often government officials forget that free speech, including the right to protest in a public place, is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Rules and regulations that impinge on free speech are allowed only in very limited circumstances.”
“We hope Newport News will use this opportunity to revisit their demonstration ordinance to bring it into compliance with First Amendment law,” added Willis.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter is available online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20090716-NNpermitletter2009.pdf
Skipper’s response can be found online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20090716-NNResponseLetter.pdf

CONTACT: Kent Willis, Office: (804) 644-8022

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