City might require permits to protest

Groups of 25 or more would have to purchase $25 permits to gather.

Anna Ewart

Minneapolis officials are preparing an ordinance that would force protesters to obtain permits prior to holding demonstrations.

The proposed ordinance would require groups of 25 or more people to purchase a protest permit for $25. Protesters, or other large groups, would have to schedule the date and place of their gatherings in advance.

The city clerk’s office said the proposal hasn’t yet gone before the city council for approval, and a date for presentation hasn’t been set.

Cam Gordon, Ward 2 councilman, said departments within the city created the proposal.

“Regulatory Services started with a version and the city attorney’s office worked on it. It’s something the city staff thought up,” he said.

Earlier this year, Gordon created the Free Speech Work Group. The group addresses issues related to civil liberties that might arise during the 2008 Republican National Convention, to be held in the Twin Cities in September 2008.

Deputy city coordinator Jayne Khalifa, who is also the staff liaison for the group, said it isn’t entirely against the idea of an ordinance that would require permits for public rallies, but it has certain expectations for such a proposal.

She said the group has rejected two different versions of the proposal.

“(The proposals) really didn’t address what we have focused on in this work group, and that is to look at what the city’s obligations are during this convention period,” she said. “The city has an obligation to protect the citizens from harm, to protect demonstrators from harm, to protect property, to have traffic flow and to have emergency vehicles able to get to victims.”

Other cities have rules forcing people to get permits to hold public rallies. New York City requires a $25 permit for anyone to hold an event in a public park.

According to a New York City press release, two large groups were denied a permit to protest in the city’s main parks while the 2004 RNC was being held there. The city’s decision to reject the permit requests was upheld in state and federal courts.

Dale Carpenter, a professor of law at the University, teaches constitutional law and First Amendment rights. He said the Minneapolis ordinance probably wouldn’t be ruled unconstitutional if approved by the City Council.

“There have been challenges because people say this isn’t fair to groups that can’t afford these fees,” he said. “This is, after all, public land, and we should be able to have a protest on public land without having to pay for it.”

Carpenter also said the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of such ordinances.

“As long as the fee is charged on an even-handed basis and is content neutral, it is probably constitutional,” he said.

Khalifa said although the group cares about citizens’ rights to free speech, it also believes they have the right to safety.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding cities. We are strongly supportive of citizens’ free speech rights, but we do have a city obligation to protect citizens and demonstrators,” she said.

According to a city of Minneapolis news release, there will be an estimated 40,000 people visiting the Twin Cities area during the RNC.

Not everyone thinks requiring protesters to get permits is a good idea. Gordon, who is an alternate member of the group, said he does not support the current proposal.

“I don’t think this is necessary, and I have concerns about it. I think that’s very broad. A group of 25 people who are getting together with prior planning could include a family reunion or a school field trip,” he said. “I think it creates some obstacles and maybe some prohibitions against groups that decide to rally and get organized.”

Striking University clerical worker Rick Diaz said the government should not regulate who can protest.

“It would violate free speech because there would be people deciding who can and can’t get together,” he said.