Park Service weighs changes for speeches, demonstrations at White House, monuments

The National Park Service is considering changing rules that could affect future First Amendment speeches on the National Mall. (Photo National Park Service)(National Park Service)
WASHINGTON — The park ranger adjusted four microphones on a podium slightly — and then history was made, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The actions of then-25-year-old Ranger Gordon Gundrum on Aug. 28, 1963, are a footnote in the long history of the U.S. National Park Service hosting memorable speeches, demonstrations and special events on the grounds of the National Mall.

And now the Park Service believes some changes may be needed to facilitate future events for groups wanting their voices heard, while preserving the sanctity of Washington’s many memorials and monuments.

“The role the National Park Service plays in facilitating these groups’ First Amendment rights — regardless of their views — is not something we take lightly,” said acting National Capital Regional Director Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini.

“These proposed changes would provide much needed clarity to regulations while ensuring those unalienable rights remain.”

A 60-day public comment period is getting underway as the Park Service contemplates a clear, uniform set of parameters for First Amendment demonstrations in and around the National Mall, and President’s Park near the White House.

The Park Service has outlined the following for people wishing to comment during the 60-day period, which they say begins in a few days, though they have not given a specific date:

  • Visit (preferred method); Search for “RIN 1024-AE45”
  • Mail or hand deliver comments to National Park Service, National Mall and Memorial Parks, 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20024, Attn: Brian Joyner.
  • Comments submitted by email will not be accepted.

The Park Service says it issues roughly 750 First Amendment demonstration permits each year.

The policies and procedures being considered would establish and codify security zones at President’s Park — which includes the White House and its grounds.

Regulations at several memorials would identify restricted zones “to help preserve an atmosphere of contemplation, tranquility and reverence,” according to a Park Service news release.

The Park Service is considering tweaking the number of participants needed to require a permit. It is also weighing how long groups should be able to establish displays in the nation’s parks, among other possible changes.

A draft of the 94-page proposed rule is available on the National Park Service website.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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