Saturday neo-Nazis are holding a rally in Kansas City, MO and the Kansas City Police Department announced some restrictions on what anyone headed to the event can carry. The restrictions are raising some concern with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Nazi group's rally is set to take place Saturday at 3 p.m. on the sidewalk of the Jackson County Courthouse.
The concern is that there are a lot of people with some very strong feeling towards the group and swastikas aren't usually taken positively.
Police want to keep things safe by enforcing some extra restrictions that include separate areas for the rally and counter-protestors. But a lawyer with the ACLU said a sidewalk is not a concert and police can't cordon it off and place special restrictions based solely on the possibility of violence.
The ACLU says the restrictions are unconstitutional. Among the many restrictions the organization is taking issue with is a prohibition on poles and wooden sticks attached to a flag or sign. They point out that picket signs are protected speech.
"The police have no authority to basically create a new zone on a public sidewalk and determine that in that zone are special rules," said Doug Bonney with the ACLU of Kansas. "They are punishing not only the Nazis, but also the counter-protesters who might want to carry signs on sticks by banning them because they fear the acts of hostile onlookers. That's wrong."
Police said they're not trying to restrict speech. The rally attendees can have signs and banners, they just can't attach them to anything, such as a pole or stick.
Bonney said the problem is visibility.
"You can't hold a sign as high without it being on a stick," he said.
But on another level, he says, it's not just about signs on sticks.
"The police have no authority to basically create a new zone on a public sidewalk and determine that in that zone are special rules," Bonney said.
It's not like a marathon or a parade, he said, because those kind of events involve street closures and therefore permits, which in turn allows for restrictions.
"The only restriction that's on the books that I know about is you can't block the public sidewalk. So as long as access to passersby is allowed, that's it," Bonney said.
He added that fear of violence, without substantial evidence is not enough, adding that it's a cardinal rule of the First Amendment that you can't punish a speaker for the acts of a hostile onlooker.
"We are not standing up for their cause. We are standing up for the First Amendment," he said. "Because if you don't defend the most outrageous speakers' rights, everyone's rights will be lost."
At this point, the ACLU's stance is just an opinion. There's no legal action planned.
That could change if the Nazi group asks the ACLU to get involved officially.
Both rallies begin at 3 p.m. Saturday. The civil rights and human rights organizations will hold theirs at Liberty Memorial, the National Socialist Movement rally will be on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse.
The police department said they support everyone's First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and protest, but they will also be securing the NSM rally area as well as a third one being held across the street and prohibiting several items to make the environment as safe as possible.
All people entering into the designated areas will be screened for any type of prohibitive item on their person. These prohibited items include but are not limited to the following:
There will be specific entry points into the designated rally site where persons entering into the areas will be screened by uniformed police officers. Persons attempting to enter into the rally site with any of the above indicated items will be refused entry into the site. All prohibited materials will need to be secured away from the rally site. Any property left unattended at the rally site will be disposed of in accordance with Police Department Policy.
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