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Judge: Bush Protesters Unfairly Blocked

Article on PCJ victory over National Park Service

Reprinted from Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Park Service violated an anti-war group’s First Amendment rights by excluding them from major parts of President Bush’s 2005 inaugural parade route, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The ANSWER Coalition claimed in its lawsuit that the Park Service illegally denied protesters and the general public access to areas of Pennsylvania Avenue that were reserved for ticketed guests approved by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman noted in his ruling that the inauguration “is not a private event,” and that the Park Service violated its own regulations by favoring government supporters over critics during the permit process.

“We think this is a very significant victory with very far-reaching consequences for the government’s attempt to restrict access to public events,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for ANSWER.

A spokesman for the National Park Service did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Park Service officials had argued that they fulfilled their obligation by giving demonstrators access to other areas along the parade route. The Park Service noted, for instance, that ANSWER was offered space for as many as 10,000 protesters to stand or sit in bleachers in a plaza just a few blocks from the Capitol.

But Brian Becker, the national coordinator for ANSWER, said most of the areas reserved for protesters were behind bleachers or hundreds of feet from the street. Opponents of the war “were marginalized and pushed into the background so as not to be visible,” Becker said.

ANSWER initially sought an emergency injunction against the Park Service in January 2005 before the inauguration, challenging what it called “the unprecedented exclusion of the public” from the parade route. But the judge ruled against the anti-war group, saying the Park Service satisfied its obligation.