You may know the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from such recent civil rights battles as the war over whether citizens can carry signs on public roads in the County of Maui (settled in October 2013!), distribute religious literature on public sidewalks (still pending!) and whether a county employee can administer a blog that satirizes a Maui cop (also still pending!). That was all fun and good and necessary–assuming we all actually still want to live in a democracy where the rights of citizens are considered preeminent–but now the ACLU has decided to go after the State of Hawaii’s Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS, to its close friends).
It seems that the good ‘ol ACLU is a bit tired of how the state has been tossing bureaucratic obstacles in front of people who want to hold old-fashioned protests in such exotic venues as the state Capitol. So on Mar. 27, the organization filed suit in federal court to stop it. Here’s a statement on the problem from the ACLU’s press release on the lawsuit:
“The lawsuit asks the court to require DAGS to remove burdensome requirements for obtaining a permit–including requirements that small groups have to get the government’s permission before holding a protest; that individuals have to agree to indemnify the State for any injuries arising from their protest (even if the injuries are caused by the protesters’ opponents); and that individuals or groups apply for a permit weeks in advance (with no exception for spontaneous demonstrations in response to sudden events or news).”
This is just too much. I’m sorry, did we lose a war (or two)? It’s one thing for the State of Hawaii to write absurd laws saying citizens who want to protest in public buildings need to get permission and permits, but it’s another for us citizens to roll over, accept it and start chasing the red tape. Seriously, this lawsuit should have been filed years ago.
Protests are, by their very definition, physical acts of disobedience directed against the government. When a government legally sanctions a protest, then it pretty much ceases to be a protest and becomes nothing more defiant than a public hearing. Then again, it’s been clear for a long time that we live in a society that values contracts and liability waivers more than freedoms of assembly and speech that are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Here’s the ACLU’s Alexandra Rosenblatt, who was quoted in the Mar. 27 press release:
“Current permitting practices could prevent people from gathering around a legislative measure or breaking community crisis. The State requires a fourteen day lead time for permits, yet legislative hearings only have a 2-3 day lead time. The State also requires that permit holders waive all claims against the state as a condition of exercising their first amendment rights. DAGS has made exceptions, but the absence of consistent, objective standards raises a concern that groups could be treated differently based on the content of their speech. When it comes to our government and state capitol there is no room for opaque rules that hinder community voices from being heard.”
For more information, check out acluhawaii.org.
Photo of Hawaii state capitol building: Cliff/Wikimedia Commons