East Hawaii News

State’s Permit Requirement for Protests Unconstitutional, ACLU Says

March 27, 2014, 3:35 PM HST
* Updated March 28, 12:28 PM
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The state’s practice of requiring a permit for protests at the state Capitol violates free-speech guaranties in the US Constitution, a lawsuit filed today in federal court said.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Pamela G. Lichty, president of the Drug Policy Action Group and a member of the ACLU, argues that the state’s rules violate the Constitution’s First Amendment.

The lawsuit asks the state to remove what the ACLU called “burdensome” rules for obtaining such a permit required for groups of 25 or more individuals gathering or demonstrating on state property.

According to the lawsuit, the rules require that such groups apply for a permit at least 14 business days in advance of a gathering, and also that the group obtain “minimum insurance requirements” that include liability waivers.

The rules apply to all property under the control of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, which the complaint said is defined as “buildings and parking structures of the State of Hawaii, including the grounds thereof.”

“The twenty-five person requirement therefore prohibits anonymous speech for all but the smallest groups, regardless of the size of the State property at issue,” the lawsuit said.

A statement issued today by the ACLU said that the group had informed DAGS of the problem more than a year prior to the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting held in Honolulu.

“The ACLU continued to inform the State of these problems through 2011, 2012, and 2013, but the State has neither changed its rules nor issued any new policies to correct these problems,” the statement said.

It said the ACLU has assisted several groups in “navigating the unlawful permit process,” but believes that an unknown number of individuals or groups have been deterred from holding a demonstration because of what the ACLU called “DAGS’ unconstitutional rules.”

The issue is again coming to the forefront early next month when Honolulu hosts Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and defense ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations on April 1-2.

The statement said “the ACLU hopes that this lawsuit will ensure that any individuals or groups that want to demonstrate on State property during the ASEAN Conference (or any other matter) are able to do so.”

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