- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court yesterday to prevent the U.S. Secret Service from keeping protesters away from presidential and vice-presidential appearances while allowing supporters to display their messages up close.

The civil-liberties group filed the lawsuit on behalf of four advocacy organizations that said the Secret Service forced them into protest zones or other areas where they could not be seen by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or be noticed by the media covering their visits.

“The pattern we found was at presidential and vice-presidential appearances, protesters were restricted to areas where they were out of sight, out of earshot and often out of mind,” said Witold J. Walczak, legal director for the ACLU’s Greater Pittsburgh chapter. “Protecting our nation’s leaders from harm is important. Protecting our nation’s leaders from dissent is unconstitutional.”



Said Secret Service spokesman John Gill: “The Secret Service does not comment on pending litigation. However, we have a long-standing policy of recognizing the constitutionally protected right of the public to demonstrate and voice their views to their elected officials.”

The ACLU complaint lists several incidents where it said protesters were forced to assemble blocks from where the president or vice president was speaking, while supporters of administration policies could hold their signs up in front of the building. It cited examples including occurences in Philadelphia; Columbia, S.C., Phoenix; Stockton, Calif. and St. Louis.

The plaintiffs are the National Organization for Women; United for Peace and Justice, an antiwar group; ACORN, an advocacy organization for low- and moderate-income families, and USAction, which supports universal health care and better public education and opposes the Iraq war and tax cuts.

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