Will the National Mall Redesign Put Limits on Free Speech?

<p>A coalition of civil rights groups are concerned that the plans to redesign Washington D.C.'s National Mall will spatially restrict free speech and public protests, a charge the National Park Service rejects.</p>
February 28, 2008, 11am PST | Michael Dudley
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"The National Park Service (NPS) is planning to redesign the heavily trafficked National Mall -- the sprawling open area between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol that has become America's iconographic site of popular protest. It is where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech, where protests against everything from the Vietnam War and Iraq War have been launched, where locals and visitors alike lunch, jog and sightsee, and, in 2007, where Al Gore kicked off one of Live Earth's concerts.

In short, it is the premier destination for Americans from all walks of life to gather, relax, orate and bask in their collective freedoms.

But that might be coming to an end, as some organizations see it. Critics of the redesign including the ANSWER Coalition, Impeach Bush, Partnership for Civil Justice and more are complaining that the National Park Service's proposed redesign, still in its formative phase, is a subtle attempt to restrict that time-honored ability to congregate and complain.

Partnership for Civil Justice [claims that the National Park Service has] "issued proposals...which include restrictions on protest activities, including the erection of stages because they might temporarily block the pristine view between the Washington Monument and the Capitol; mandatory 'rest' periods for the grass where the Mall would be off-limits; and, most significantly, the creation of a space where protesters would be expected and likely directed to gather near the Capitol. This is to be a stage-managed view of protests to turn the powerful opposition of the people coming together in mass assembly into a prettified outdoor lobbying group.

[But] it isn't much of a stretch to figure out what the National Park Service thinks of that theory. 'That is a complete red herring,' explained William Line, communications officer for the National Park Service for the last six years and one-time journalist for ABC and NBC News. 'It is completely and wrongly mischaracterizing what is going on to say that the national park service is limiting speech. The national park service reveres the First Amendment as much as any other American, and any statement by whatever groups to the contrary is patently false. I think they are interested in stirring up controversy.'"

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Published on Wednesday, February 27, 2008 in AlterNet
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