City of Seattle’s Denial of Juneteenth Event Permit Unconstitutional

News Release: 
Thursday, June 10, 2021
SEATTLE—The ACLU of Washington and the Public Defender Association sent a letter on behalf of CHOP Art to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the involved city departments calling on the City to immediately reverse its unconstitutional denial of a permit to hold a Juneteenth celebration at Cal Anderson Park.

CHOP Art, a non-profit organization that supports social justice through art, self-expression and education, filed an event permit application months ago for the celebration to be held between June 11 and 13.

The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department’s denial of CHOP Art’s permit application based on the content of the event violates a central tenet of the First Amendment, according to the letter sent Thursday from ACLU-WA and PDA.

In its explanation for denying the permit, the parks department noted that community members had raised concerns about the event, which coincides with the anniversary of the CHOP protests last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, celebrating and commemorating the protests. As the letter notes, allowing community concerns to influence the city’s permit decision amounts to an unconstitutional “heckler’s veto.”

“The city cannot stand in the way of CHOP Art’s attempt to hold a public event expressing political views about systemic racism and police brutality simply because they object to the content of the event and its message,” said Prachi Dave, Policy and Advocacy Director for the Public Defender Association. “Their rejection of the permit clearly violates the constitutional right to free speech.”

“The First Amendment is vital to our democracy and must be respected, even if someone disagrees with the message,” said Breanne Schuster, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Washington. “Government officials and leaders must not censor free speech just because it is unpopular or critical of their leadership.”