York, PA: Limits Put On Assembly

Article Last Updated: Friday, September 26, 2003 - 11:54:12 AM EST

Limits put on assembly
30-day permit needed; park gatherings exempt
By HEIDI BERNHARD-BUBB For Dispatch/Sunday News

Springettsbury Township's new public assembly ordinance requires a permit
for gatherings of more than 10 people -- except at its parks or
playgrounds.

Adopted by the board of supervisors last night, the new ordinance requires
a permit be sought 30 days ahead of time, a provision that has drawn fire
for restricting rights of free speech and peaceable assembly.

As originally proposed, the ordinance also included gatherings in parks
and playgrounds, but those areas were exempted in the measure adopted last
night. Township officials said those areas will be addressed in a revised
park ordinance next month.

The new ordinance applies to gatherings on township roads and other in
public areas, such as the municipal building parking lot.

Although the ordinance is less restrictive, the 30-day notice provision
has raised the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union. Larry Frankel, a
spokesman for the state chapter of the ACLU, says the requirement would
stifle free speech, especially regarding political protests.

Township chairman Donald Bishop disagrees. He said the requirement is
reasonable because the township needs time to plan for the safety of
participants and residents.

"We are not a big city like New York or Washington, D.C.," Bishop said.
"We don't have huge resources to mobilize quickly if needed for a protest.
It takes us time to plan."

But Frankel called the notice requirement excessive. For instance, he
said, if the president announced the United States were to invade Iran
tomorrow, the 30-day notice requirement could stifle the free speech of
those opposed to the action, he said.

Rally planned: Township solicitor Charles Rausch said although an upcoming
protest is set to begin at Springettsbury Park, which does not require a
permit, organizers will still need an assembly permit because they plan to
use the township's roads.

The Oct. 18 rally is a protest against the federal government's detention
of immigrants since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. After gathering at the
park near the township building, the protesters will march to the prison,
said township manager John Holman.

The township has been working with organizers of the event, which could
attract hundreds, and plans to grant them a permit, Rausch said.

The supervisors held a public hearing before the adoption of the
ordinance, and despite opposition from the ACLU spokesman, no group
representative or any township resident came to comment on the ordinance.

Because the new ordinance is less restrictive than the previous ordinance,
which required groups of two or more people to have a permit, Rausch said
it won't have to be re-advertised.

Rausch also said when the parks ordinance is considered next month, the
township plans to regulate gatherings on the athletic fields but no notice
would be needed to use the park's pavilions and playgrounds.

York City adopted a public assembly ordinance that requires 10-day notice,
passed in April 2002 after visits by several white supremacist groups.

Both the racist groups and peace protesters have said the city's ordinance
violates First Amendment rights and have challenged it in court.

Richard Barrett, a white separatist based in Mississippi, filed a federal
civil-rights lawsuit against York's ordinance last year. The suit is
pending.