The DOJ files an SOI in support of a lawsuit over the cancellation of a Veteran’s Day parade.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced it filed a Statement of Interest (SOI) in a case pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania concerning the City of Philadelphia’s “Event Moratorium” prohibiting the issuance of permits for gatherings of 150 or more in public. The lawsuit alleges the Moratorium “violates the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Under the permit band, Philadelphia’s Veterans Day parade was cancelled, although protesting of any sized group has been allowed.
The SOI was filed in support of the plaintiff, the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Society (Vietnam Veterans), which stated it and other groups are “adversely impacted by the city’s blanket ban on issuing permits for public gatherings.” On July 14, 2020, the City of Philadelphia put into place the pandemic’s guidelines, which were revised on September 21 and are to remain in effect until February 2021.
“The First Amendment to U.S. Constitution makes illegal any attempt by government to abridge the rights of the people to speak and assemble peacefully,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Our Founders established these rights to enshrine in our law a very simple ideal: tyranny has no place in this free country. At a small town west of Philadelphia, at Gettysburg in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln observed that this United States of America was ‘conceived in liberty,’ and he challenged all of us ‘to be dedicated’ to a ‘new birth of freedom.’ We must and do accept President Lincoln’s challenge. The Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Society honors those brave patriots, living and dead, who fought, suffered, and died for our freedom and for the freedom of all humanity. The U.S. Department of Justice stands with them, and we will continue to fight for their liberty and the liberty of all people.”
“This is a case about more speech, not less,” added U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “The city’s double standard – whereby is treats protests one way and any other First Amendment gathering a completely different way – is illogical, favors particular speakers and issues, does not serve public health purposes, and is unconstitutional. The solution is not to limit protests. Rather, the solution is to eliminate the Event Moratorium and allow all speakers to express themselves in accordance with their constitutional rights.”
The SOI concludes the double standard may be “viewpoint discrimination triggering strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.” If other protests are approved, the parade should have also been able to occur. It carries with it the same risks as protest do for contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
“We anticipate further rapid increases in this infection in Philadelphia, which means we’re entering a difficult, dangerous period of this epidemic,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley reported, sticking by the decision to limit gatherings. “Possibly the worst period of this entire epidemic. We hope to have a vaccine soon, but much of this surge will happen before the vaccine arrives.”