Last week, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration issued a new policy restricting free speech in the state capitol.
It requires “groups of four or more people” to “obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings.” And it says they must apply for those permits “at least 72 hours in advance.”
What’s more, it says that groups can be charged if extra law enforcement is needed: $50 an hour, per officer.
“The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that this restrictive Capitol access policy threatens the free speech rights of all Wisconsin residents,” said Christopher Ahmuty, executive director of the group, in a press release on December 2. “The ACLU of Wisconsin will be considering legal action regarding these restrictive rules.” He urged the Walker administration to “delay implementation” of the new policy.
Today, I asked Ahmuty if he was going to sue Walker. “If by that you mean, are we going to run into court for a TRO (temporary restraining order) tomorrow, no,” he said. “But we think there are some serious problems.”
One of those problems, Ahmuty told me, is that the policy doesn’t appear to be “content neutral,” as required by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He worries that the police would enforce the policy one way if it’s “The Sons of Norway that’s gathering in the Rotunda” and another way if it’s “The Fight Police Abuse Organization.”
He also asked Capitol Police chief Charles Tubbs what criteria law enforcement was going to use in applying this policy, and he says Tubbs told him it’s a secret.
And that lack of transparency concerns Ahmuty, too.
Ahmuty is not the only one raising eyebrows at this new policy.
State Representative Chris Taylor, a Democrat from the Madison area, sent a letter on Friday to Mike Huebsch, Walker’s secretary of administration.
“I strongly believe the new policies go too far and not only infringe on individuals’ constitutionally protected rights, but are contrary to our state’s long tradition of promoting an open, transparent government, that encourages and facilitates citizen participation,” she wrote.
She took particular issue with the four-person rule.
“Does the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the hundreds of other groups that hold a lobby day for their members need a permit? . . . Do the Solidarity Singers and school groups that come to the Capitol to sing need a permit? . . . Do four ministers praying for the 29,000 children who will loose healthcare coverage under the proposed changes to Medicaid and BadgerCare need a permit?”
Several of the activists who have been consistently protesting in the capitol are suggesting a mass challenge to this new policy at some undetermined date.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Occupy Activists Push Ahead."
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