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ACLU, Rutherford Institute Urge Charlottesville to Allow Rally at Emancipation Park

Posted: Updated: Aug 08, 2017 05:14 PM
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Two groups dedicated to protecting constitutional and civil rights are calling on Charlottesville officials to allow a controversial rally to go ahead as planned Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia and Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute issued a joint letter Tuesday, August 8, demanding that the city let white activist Jason Kessler hold his Unite the Right rally at Emancipation Park on August 12.

Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones announced Monday, August 7, that the city would only allow Kessler to hold the rally at McIntire Park. Officials have expressed concerns over logistics and safety as their reasons to move the event away from downtown Charlottesville.

Kessler states that the rally is in support of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Emancipation Park, and he is currently refusing to relocate the event. He believes as many as 400 people will join in supporting the statue, and has invited leaders of the alt-right movement to speak at his event.

Authorities have estimated the rally may draw thousands of people to the area in and around the park. Some businesses on the Downtown Mall have said that police are suggesting they close for the day to avoid the potential conflicts between rally supporters and protesters.

The letter from the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute states. "As organizations committed to protecting constitutional and civil rights, we demand that the city withdraw its letter to Jason Kessler of August 7, 2017, revoking and otherwise rescinding the permit for a demonstration in Emancipation Park on August 12, 2017, and provide assurances that the city will allow the 'Unite the Right' demonstration as previously planned and approved by operation of law."

The letter lists five First Amendment concerns the organizations have with the city:

  1. Opposition can be no basis for government action that would suppress the First Amendment rights of demonstrators, no matter how distasteful those views may be.
  2. Last-minute relocation undermines ability of demonstrators to effectively communicate their message.
  3. The city must provide factual evidence to support its attendance estimate and justify revoking the permit to demonstrate in Emancipation Park.
  4. If the city is justifying its relocation of the rally elsewhere based on the presence of counterdemonstrators, that constitutes an unconstitutional “hecklers’ veto."
  5. The city must act in accordance with the law, no matter how distasteful that may be to members of the community.

Both organizations indicate that they are willing to take the city to court. They say Charlottesville has until noon Wednesday, August 9, to respond.

Kessler has not yet commented on Tuesday's letter.

Legal analyst Lloyd Snook believes this issue could end up in court, though there is no clear result.

“There's a practical problem: how do you get it in front of a judge in time to get a judge to make a decision? There's also the practical problem of even if you got a decision, let's say Friday afternoon, would there be time to implement it whatever the decision might be? I think there's going to be a lot of confusion either way,” he said.

It should be noted that the ACLU and Rutherford Institute are not currently working directly with Kessler if they were to file a lawsuit. Kessler is also threatening to sue Charlottesville.

The YMCA announced Tuesday that it will be closing its facility at McIntire Park on the day of the rally: "the YMCA has elected to close for the safety of our members, program participants and staff. We encourage you to use the Crozet YMCA, located at 1075 Claudius Crozet Park."