WASHINGTON -- A new rule proposed by the National Park Service has angered some local activists.
In August, the National Park Service floated the idea of requiring permit applicants for demonstrations, like protests, to pay fees to the agency.
In a proposed rule document, NPS reasoned, "Demonstrations can have substantial impacts on resources, resulting in a financial burden to the federal government, particularly where structures are involved."
NPS is collecting comments from the public through October 15. So far, the overwhelming majority of those comments have been against the idea.
Ben Wikler, the Washington Director of MoveOn.org, organized the "Families Belong Together" protest at Lafayette Square earlier this summer.
He did not agree with NPS' financial explanation.
"We all pay taxes to fund the National Park Service," he said. "One of those things that those taxes pay for is the security and maintenance for federal lands that are sometimes used for First Amendment activities."
He added that a possible rule change would create an unnecessary financial burden on both liberal and conservative activists.
"It could make marches and protests, like the 'March on Washington', impossible to afford for organizers and activists who are trying to make their concerns known," he said.
NPS is considering several other new rules in regard to demonstrations in and around the National Mall as well.
1. Consider changing the number of people that could take part in a demonstration without a permit at specific locations.
2. Require a permit for the erection of structures during a special event or demonstration regardless of the number of participants.
3. Consider requiring permit applicants to pay fees to allow the NPS to recover some of the costs of administering permitted activities that contain protected speech.
4. Establish permanent security zones at President’s Park where public access is currently prohibited.
5. Establish a maximum permit period of 30 days, plus a reasonable amount of time needed for set up and take down of structures before and after a demonstration or special event.
6. Identify locations where structures may not be used, and restrict the height, weight, equipment, and materials of structures when they are permitted during special events and demonstrations.
7. Apply existing sign restrictions (e.g. supports, dimensions) in President's Park to other locations within the National Mall and Memorial Parks and President’s Park.
8. Modify and establish restricted zones at memorials on the National Mall where special events and demonstrations would not be allowed in order to preserve an atmosphere of contemplation.