WASHINGTON – A U.S. District Court judge will decide this week if a pro-life group has the right to demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue during Monday’s Presidential Inaugural Parade.
The Christian Defense Coalition argued Tuesday that the group should be allowed to hold pro-life signs on Pennsylvania Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets as President Clinton’s motorcade makes its way toward the White House.
The National Park Service denied the group’s request.
“We filed this lawsuit to protect the rights of every American, regardless of their political views, to speak openly without fear,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who heads the 10,000-member group. “The Clinton administration has betrayed the principles of the First Amendment.”
Mahoney said his group was threatened with arrest if it showed up to demonstrate on Monday.
But Marina Utgoff-Braswell, attorney for Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who was named in the suit, argued the First Amendment is not an issue in this case.
She said the Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies Act of 1956 sets aside land to be used by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and it includes the area on Pennsylvania coveted by Mahoney.
Inaugural committee requests to reserve the area take precedence over other permit requests – even those filed earlier, Utgoff-Braswell said.
Bleachers have already been erected by the inaugural committee in that area, said Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.
Mahoney’s attorney, James Henderson, had argued that the Park Service’s normal “first-come, first-served” policy for issuing permits should have been followed. Mahoney’s application was filed in November, while the application for the Presidential Inaugural Committee was received in December, Henderson said.
Alley said before Tuesday’s hearing that the government has tried to accommodate the Christian Defense Coalition.
The coalition filed three applications to hold demonstrations on park land on Inauguration Day. Two of the three were approved, including the right to erect 4,400 3-feet-high wooden crosses on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
To compensate for not being able to hold its demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue, Alley offered Mahoney’s group two other locations along the parade route, one in John Marshall Park and the other in Lafayette Park, which is located off of Pennsylvania in front of the White House.
“We have offered them other areas and they have chosen to take us to court,” Alley said.
Alley said the National Park Service receives more than 6,000 permit requests a year for demonstrations in the District of Columbia. She said almost all of those are granted.
Before proceedings began inside the courthouse, Mahoney said his group will be at Pennsylvania demonstrating on Monday regardless of the ruling of the court.
“If it means we have to be arrested and dragged away, we will do it,” he said. A decision from Judge Harold Greene is expected by Thursday. -30-