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RI ACLU Issues Statement on “Occupy Providence” Protest

Posted: October 28, 2011|Category: Free Speech Category: Right to Petition & Protest

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RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown issued the following statement today regarding the “Occupy Providence” protest:

“The Rhode Island ACLU has received numerous inquiries about First Amendment issues raised by the 'Occupy Providence' protest and the group's right to remain encamped in Burnside Park.

“The ACLU fully supports the right of 'Occupy Providence' to engage in forms of peaceful protest at the park and elsewhere in the city in order to express their political views and promote their cause. We believe that some of the particular rules and ordinances that have been cited by the City in an October 27th letter to protesters – including an apparent ban on any protest activity in the park after 9 PM – may be constitutionally problematic if they were to be enforced against members of 'Occupy Providence.' Peaceful First Amendment activity should not be subject to a curfew.

“Issues surrounding the group's indefinite encampment are more complicated. Unfortunately, there is a U.S. Supreme Court decision, called Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, which upheld, in the similar context of a political protest, the constitutionality of a federal rule against overnight camping in certain public parks. We disagree with that ruling, but under the circumstances, we believe it significantly limits the First Amendment arguments that are available in support of the group‟s right to indefinitely encamp at Burnside Park without a permit. Since it is beyond our purview, however, we have not examined whether there may be any other grounds for challenging Providence‟s camping ban.

“This historic protest has been extraordinarily peaceful, and the participants appear to have been cooperative with city officials and respectful of needs relating to public safety. We appreciate the comments that have been made by the Providence Commissioner of Public Safety that any eviction proceedings will be done through an orderly civil, not criminal, process, and that there will be no effort to use force to remove people from the park. It is essential that all appropriate due process is provided before any such proceedings take place.

“The ACLU will continue to monitor the situation. We remain available to address any specific allegations of violations of protesters' First Amendment rights.”

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