Friday, August 27, 2010

Empire State Building Protest

While New Yorkers have been drawn into an increasingly vehement debate over an Islamic center and mosque planned near ground zero, another religious squabble has been simmering. And on Thursday, that battle will culminate at the Empire State Building.

There, protesters are planning to rally against a decision by the building’s owners not to light the upper floors in blue and white on Thursday night in honor of the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa.

The Police Department and the rally’s organizers, preparing for several thousand demonstrators, are planning to shut down 34th Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, where the main entrance to the building is located, at the peak of the evening rush, between 6 and 7:30 p.m.

The N.Y. Times has more here and here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Face-Off Over the "Ground Zero Mosque"

As the N.Y. Times recently reported, NYPD was out in force and pens were erected to hold and separate demonstrators for and against the construction of an Islamic center blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.  But as the story notes, a few of the penned managed to get up close and personal with counter-demonstrators -- with what may be a surprising result.       

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Semi-Nude Animal Rights Demonstration (Spain)

As reported here, the protest is to take place today in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.  A larger demonstration is scheduled to take place in front of the bull ring.  Animal rights activists are hoping to garner support for banning bullfighting in other regions of the country, on the heels of the ban enacted in Catalonia. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Protesting the Expendable Governor -- At His Other Workplace

The N.Y. Times has the story here.

Funeral Protest Law Invalidated

A federal judge in Missouri has invalidated provisions of a state law that limited demonstrations near funeral processions and ceremonies.  Story here:

The primary state law had barred protests near any church, cemetery or funeral establishment from an hour before until an hour after any funeral ceremony, procession or memorial service. The secondary measure specifically stated protesters must stay back at least 300 feet from ceremonies and processions. Both provisions levied the same penalty: up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense and up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders.

Gaitan concluded Missouri officials did not demonstrate the protest restrictions served a significant government interest nor that they had been narrowly tailored to prevent the harm of interruptions of funeral services. The judge wrote he was sympathetic to the argument that people attending a funeral deserve some protection, but he noted that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had already rejected that argument.
The case is Phelps-Roper v. Koster.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chinese Labor Unrest

This story chronicles the difficulties Chinese laborers have had in organizing demonstrations to protest state company layoffs.  Public contention in urban areas is dealth with quickly and effectively by authorities, and carries a significant risk of imprisonment. 

Border Protest

The N.Y. Times has this story on a demonstration in the Arizona desert.  The demonstrators were protesting what they regard as  "lax" immigration enforcement at the border.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pamphleteering for Peace

I think this story highlights why it remains important that pamphleteers and others who seek access to audiences' personal or embodied spaces be permitted such access.  I don't think that the speakers in the story, who sought to distribute brochures concerning a Muslim sect that preaches non-violence, would have reached their intended audience (Wisonsin fairgoers) on the Web.  This exchange struck me as eminently reasonable and respectful -- in other words, just the sort of dialogue that can unfortunately be quite rare in blog comment sections:

Mr. Rashid continued his efforts beside the carousel, where a local man named William Krumnow responded to the brochure with the question, “How come we can have mosques here, but when you come to the Middle East, you can’t put churches up?”

Rather than go into the factual reality — though Saudi Arabia has such restrictions, many Middle Eastern nations have had churches for centuries — Mr. Rashid solicitously explained that the Koran teaches Muslims to protect Christians and Jews as kindred monotheists.

“If that’s what you guys are believing in,” Mr. Krumnow, who is Lutheran, responded, “then why are things happening the way they are?”

Again, Mr. Rashid listened closely, shutting out the squeals of children and the cries of barkers. “Every religion has its extremists,” he said, “and in Islam, we’ve let our extremists speak too loudly. That’s why we’re here. So you can hear our voice.”
I'm sure that not all of the public exchanges were this cordial.  But the message here was far more difficult to avoid than it is in cyberspace.  And if delivered properly, it might cause at least a few people to second-guess their perceptions and prejudices regarding Islam and its relation to terrorism.        

Friday, August 6, 2010

National Park Permit Regulations Invalidated

In Boardley v. U.S. Department of the Interior, the D.C. Circuit invalidated National Park Service regulations requiring that small groups and even individual speakers obtain a permit before speaking or assembling in national parks.  The regulations at issue required that speakers communicate and assemble only within certain "free speech areas" in the parks.  The court held that these areas were designated public forums.  With regard to the permit requirement, the court held that it was not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interests in safety and order and did not leave open ample alternative channels of communication.  The court was particularly concerned that the permit requirements applied to even small groups and individuals, appeared to render spontaneous speech and assembly impossible, and failed to preserve any opportunity for communicating messages anonymously. 

With regard to the breadth of the regulations, the court wrote (slip op. at 25; citations omitted):

The NPS regulations target much more than necessary. If a Girl Scouts leader musters her scouts onto a pavilion in a “free speech area” of Glacier National Park and proceeds to lecture them about the effects of global warming, she will have conducted both a “meeting” and a “gathering”(perhaps also an “assembly”) for which a permit would have been required. An elementary school teacher who leads eight students on an excursion to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument and, within a “free speech area,” shows off her best imitation of a traditional Navajo dance presumably has hosted an unlawful “demonstration.” If a believer in Creationism visits the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and, within a “free speech area,” quietly hands out literature disputing the theory of evolution, he is guilty of “distribut[ing] . . . printed matter” without a permit.  Under a plain reading of the NPS regulations, all of this speech is banned unless a permit is first acquired, even though none of it remotely threatens any of the government’s interests. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Unregulated Protest -- Mexico City

The N.Y. Times has this interesting story about the costs and benefits of unregulated street protests in Mexico City.  On the cost side, the protests are highly disruptive.  On the benefits side, the right to demonstrate in public appears to be firmly entrenched -- and, for the most part, respected by authorities.  There is, of course, a middle ground between completely unregulated public protest and oppressive regulation or suppression of public contention.  The U.S. tries, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to navigate that middle ground according to well established First Amendment principles. 

Here is an excerpt from the story:

Since the city does not regulate protests, demonstrators are free to block traffic whenever they please. In just the first three months of this year, there were 740 street demonstrations, an average of about eight and a half a day — an improvement over last year, when there were more than nine a day, the city government points out.

“In our country, it is a constitutional right to demonstrate,” said Juan José García Ochoa, the leftist city government’s point man for protests. “What we can do is to mediate, so that we guarantee the right to demonstrate along with the right of free movement.”

The daily marches may appear to be a sign of a vibrant democracy, proof of a wealth of ideals and opportunities to express them. But they also obey the choreographed rules of engagement laid down during 70 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.

“For many years, the political system was very closed, but it was not authoritarian,” Mr. García Ochoa said. “During 70 years of the PRI, they let you demonstrate as long as you didn’t threaten their hold on power.”

It has been a decade since opposition parties broke the PRI’s political monopoly, but the idea that the best way to get the authorities’ attention is to stop traffic remains embedded in Mexico’s political culture.