- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

A federal District court yesterday ruled that antiwar protesters can rally along Pennsylvania Avenue during the inauguration parade in January.

Members of the ANSWER Coalition won the judgement by saying the National Park Service violated their First Amendment rights by excluding them and other visitors from a major section of the route during President Bush’s 2005 inaugural parade. The sections were reserved for guests who received tickets from the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

“It means thousands and thousands of people who want the war in Iraq to come to an end can line the parade route and let their views be known,” said Brian Becker, the coalition’s national coordinator. “Whoever is the next president will hear from people that they want the war in Iraq ended and there will be signs and banners saying that along the parade route.”

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said in his ruling the inauguration “is not a private event.”

“Protesters are entitled to engage in political speech in a public forum during the inaugural parade,” he said. “As the Supreme Court has observed, the government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.”

Park service officials said they fulfilled their obligation, including offering the group space in “nine park areas,” including a section of John Marshall Park, which would allow them “to see and be seen from the parade route.”

However, the protesters said the spots were obstructed by bleachers or a wall.

Park service officials declined to comment yesterday.

The U.S. District Court denied the protesters’ attempt to get an injunction against the park service restrictions days before the 2005 parade.

Judge Friedman also said the parade is not a private event in which some members of the public can be excluded.

“Once a forum is opened up to assembly or speaking by some groups, government may not prohibit others from assembling or speaking on the basis of what they intend to say,” he wrote. “The National Park Service on behalf of the [committee] cannot reserve all of Pennsylvania Avenue for itself, leaving only the Ellipse and the northern part of John Marshall Park to protesters.”

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