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August 10, 2017

The ACLU of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute have filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville on behalf of “alt-right” activist Jason Kessler claiming his 1st and 14th Amendment rights are being denied by the city’s refusal to allow him and supporters to access Emancipation Park on Aug. 12 for a previously approved demonstration.

In the suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the civil rights groups argue that the decision of the city and its manager Maurice Jones was based on their disdain for the views of Mr. Kessler and his supporters.

The city on June 13 approved a permit application from Mr. Kessler for a “Unite the Right” march at which he estimated four hundred people would be in attendance. The purpose of the rally was to protest the city’s decision to rename the former Lee Park and remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the park.

On Aug. 7, the city informed Mr. Kessler that he would only be allowed to hold the rally if it were moved to another location a mile away. The city claimed that “many thousands” of people were likely to attend the rally, including supporters and opponents, and cited safety concerns.

In Mr. Kessler’s complaint, the civil rights organizations have argued that the city is discriminating against his message because it is controversial and unpopular, and that more acceptable views – those of counter-protesters – are being favored. Moving the rally to a different location would dilute Mr. Kessler’s message because the planned location of Emancipation Park is directly related to it, and thus his constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and petition are being violated.

“The ACLU of Virginia stands for the right to free expression for all, not just those whose opinions are in the mainstream or with whom the government agrees,” said ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “The city’s action is unconstitutional in that it denies Mr. Kessler and his supporters the ability to fully express their views in the location most closely associated with their message while leaving in place permits granted other organizations with opposing views.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to allow the protest to proceed as originally approved.