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Critics blast proposed regulations for demonstrations on Park Service land in D.C.

New rules proposed by the National Park Service are coming under criticism over concerns involving their potential impact on protests around Washington, D.C., as the federal government’s window for receiving public comments nears closing.

Park officials are accepting comments on the proposed rules through Monday, after which point the agency will assess the public’s reaction prior to deciding whether to pursue changes that critics say would limit protest activity in the nation’s capital.

Introduced in August, among the rules being considered are regulations that would allow the NPS to charge a fee for protests held in parks under the agency’s jurisdiction, including the National Mall and areas adjacent to the White House, as well as limiting pedestrian access near the latter.

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund opposed the proposal this week, raising similar concerns about their consequences on future protests.

Addressing the proposed rules in a blog post Wednesday, ACLU of D.C. legal co-director Arthur Spritzer said the restrictions would “drastically limit the right to demonstrate” in the nation’s capital, “put new limits on spontaneous demonstrations, and open the door to charging fees for protesting.”

“Fee requirements could make mass protests like Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington and its ‘I have a dream’ speech too expensive to happen,” he wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

“Every type of movement has come and used these spaces to get their message to the president, and to the world at large,” echoed Carl Messineo, legal director for PCJF. “The idea that they’re going to shut them down is outrageous,” he told Courthouse News Service.

A website for the public to weigh in on the proposed changes has received thousands of responses with less than two days until the comment period closes, and sores of the most recent online comments available for viewing Saturday skewered the proposed regulations, with the phrase “anti-Democratic” appearing in 104 separate responses.

“So far we’re up to 7,600 comments,” Mr. Everitt told WTOP on Friday. “That’s absolutely what we’re looking for, because what we are trying to do at this point in the process is to have a genuine conversation with the public about updating our comprehensive plan that best facilitates the use and enjoyment of the National Mall.”

“We want to be clear that the idea of charging for First Amendment demonstrations is not in the proposal,” he added. “The National Park Service is merely soliciting comments from the public on whether that is something we should explore, moving forward,” said Mr. Everitt.

The NPS annually issues around 750 permits for demonstrations and roughly 1,500 permits for special events, according to the agency.

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