National Parks End Barriers to Small-scale Speech

By Anne Lowe

FREE SPEECH – The National Park Service announced October 14 it will be lifting its permit requirement for small-scale First Amendment activities at all national parks after a court found its regulations to be unconstitutional, in a case involving the distribution  of religious pamphlets in a "free speech area" at Mount Rushmore.

The August 6 ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the requirement that individuals and small groups get a permit prior to engaging in constitutionally protected speech was overbroad.

The service stated in a news release:

Today, the National Park Service published in the Federal Register an interim regulation to implement the court’s decision. Public comment will be accepted for 60 days before a final regulation is published.

“The new regulation allows for the spontaneity of First Amendment activities, preserving citizens' rights to free speech while allowing the National Park Service to protect the resources entrusted to our care,” said Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service.

Under the new regulation, individuals and small groups wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights in national parks will not need a permit and can proceed directly to a designated area and express their views and distribute printed material related to their issue.

The NPS will still require a permit for larger groups. The permit process allows NPS to protect park resources and guarantees groups a priority for a space when multiple groups or individual demonstrators want to use a designated area in a park.

For more than 30 years, people have not needed a permit for small group activities on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The new regulation essentially implements the National Mall rule in all national parks.

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