The ACLU represents Lynchburg resident Jack Payden-Travers, who was charged with violating the ordinance in November 2001, when he assembled a group of seven protestors to oppose U.S. military actions in Afghanistan .
Lynchburg 's ordinance requires a permit for groups of six or more individuals who plan to gather in a public place for a meeting, demonstration, picket line, or rally. Although the First Amendment protects the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," the courts have allowed government officials to create reasonable rules to insure public safety, so long as those rules do not discriminate against those who have assembled based on the content of their speech.
"We know of no court that has allowed such a restrictive ordinance," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "In the United States , a half-dozen people planning to gather to protest on a city sidewalk or in front of City Hall do not need permission from the government. We believe that the Circuit Court ruled correctly in this matter and that the Virginia Supreme Court will affirm the opinion."
"In some ways, the ordinance is merely absurd. It actually requires six people who decide in advance to meet for lunch in a public park to obtain a permit," added Willis. "In other ways it is scary. I am sure that framers of the Constitution would be appalled to discover that some of the meetings they held to draw up the Bill of Rights would require government approval in Lynchburg , " added Willis.
In December 2001, the Lynchburg General District Court ordered Payden-Travers to pay a $50 fine and court costs for violating the ordinance but that decision was overturned by a Lynchburg Circuit Court judge in February 2002.
Payden-Travers is represented by ACLU volunteer attorney David P. Baugh and ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg.
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 David P. Baugh, Baugh & Associates, Richmond, VA, 804-643-8111