When Did Dancing In The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Become A Crime?

A group of visitors to the Jefferson Memorial was arrested last Saturday for dancing inside the memorial. Images pulled from Adam vs. the Man video.

The words of Thomas Jefferson, some written more than 200 years ago, have shaped American ideals. Today, many of these impressive, stirring words adorn the interior walls of his memorial. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial stands as a symbol of liberty and endures as a site for reflection and inspiration for all citizens of the United States and the world.

Those words are on the homepage of the National Park Service's website for the Jefferson Memorial. But does the memorial stand "as a symbol of liberty and endure as a site for reflection and inspiration for all citizens of the United States and the world"? Some might wonder following an incident this past Saturday at the memorial in which U.S. Park Police brusquely -- some might say excessively, what with the use of chokeholds and knees pinning heads to the memorial's floor -- arrested a number of visitors in the memorial for ... quietly dancing.

Thomas Jefferson, our country's third president, valued liberty highly, as a review of his quotations attests:

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."

"The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave." "..I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

That last entry comes from an inscription within the memorial, an irony that can't be escaped in the wake of the arrests.

When did dancing become a sign of protest, and when was it outlawed in the memorial? How do you measure reasonable force vs. excessive force when police are arresting those behind passive acts of civil disobedience? Would those questions, which might come to mind after watching the following video, have been moot if the Park Police had simply ignored the dancers?

Now, the dancing was not spontaneous, and likely had its roots in a similar incident in 2008 when Mary Oberwetter was arrested in the memorial for dancing in celebration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday.

Ms. Oberwetter's lawsuit against the National Park Service, for a violation of her First Amendment rights, was initially dismissed by a federal judge and her appeal of that also failed, on this past May 17. In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Jefferson Memorial should have a “solemn atmosphere" and that silently dancing was an inappropriate form of expression there.

Furthermore, the appellate judges agreed with the lower court that the interior of the open-air memorial is "not a public forum," and so any demonstrators must first obtain a permit. Demonstrations that require permits in the Park Service's National Capital region are defined as "picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers."

Against those regulations, the appellate court wrote:

Although silent, Oberwetter’s dancing was a conspicuous expressive act with a propensity to draw onlookers. True, it occurred close to midnight on a weekend, making it less likely that a crowd would gather. But the question is not whether her dancing was likely to attract attention at that particular time. As with the other prohibited activities of “picketing, speechmaking, marching, [and] holding vigils or religious services,” expressive dancing might not draw an audience when nobody is around. But the conduct is nonetheless prohibited because it stands out as a type of performance, creating its own center of attention and distracting from the atmosphere of solemn commemoration that the Regulations are designed to preserve.

Furthermore, the judges added:

National memorials are places of public commemoration, not freewheeling forums for open expression, and thus the government may reserve them for purposes that preclude expressive activity. Oberwetter points out that the Jefferson Memorial is located within the National Park system, and that public parks are quintessential examples of traditional public forums. Even so, we have recognized that our country’s many national parks are too vast and variegated to be painted with a single brush for purposes of forum analysis. “Presumably, many national parks include areas—even large areas, such as a vast wilderness preserve—which never have been dedicated to free expression and public assembly, would be clearly incompatible with such use, and would therefore be classified as nonpublic forums.”.... In creating and maintaining the Jefferson Memorial in particular, the government has dedicated a space with a solemn commemorative purpose that is incompatible with the full range of free expression that is permitted in public forums.

What would Thomas Jefferson think?


Dancing thre may be illegal, but the cops have discretion and it is obvious from the half hearted "dancing" that it would have been over in minutes. Even if arrests were necessary the police were too physical in this situation. Judo throws?

Some places are more appropriate for celebrations. A few years ago I participated in a wedding on the west lawn of the Jefferson Memorial, a nice spot with a view of the memorial building and the Tidal Basin. The National Park Service issues permits for that site.

Jefferson? A Virginia gentleman with an eye for the ladies? Against dancing? Please.

"A Puritan lives in constant fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time."

As long as no one was blocking an exit and they have their clothes on, let them dance away! This is, of course, from someone, who, along with my fellow group exuberant group of high school Girl Scouts, got yelled at for running up the steps of the Supreme Court building about 8 p.m. after the building was closed over a quarter century ago. It still hurts, even now.

I suppose I ought to go turn myself in, since I've danced (to the music) on the Arch grounds, and to fiddle music on Ozark Riverways. I didn't have a permit either time.

They weren't at Arlington, dancing on JFK's grave or before the Tomb of the Unknowns, or inside the National Cathedral. Those could and would reasonably be considered inappropriate behavior, IMO, but at the memorial for Uncle TJ? Let the party begin!

In any event, NPS sort of pulled a public relations rock here, IMHO. How much is all this bad PR costing in terms of public support? Better to let a few crazies wear themselves out for a few minutes. After all, who really owns the Mall? On a scale of the 1960s to 2011, this just doesn't even register.

These individuals came only to cause trouble and draw attention to themselves. The fact that the leader has a website only shows that. If I was a visitor to the Memorial I would not want this activity of dancing and kissing going on before me. The individuals were warned and they just wanted to provoke an incident. That is what is destroying this country to much tolerance for absolutes and this just shows that.

I'm in stunned silence! Why have we become a police state?

I have no opinion about the legitimacy of the law, but I feel that as they were warned and continued then they deserve to be arrested. The resisting of arrest ruined any point they were making. If they would have quietly allowed themselves to be arrested then it would have gone a lot farther for me that they were trying to make a point. As it is they all came off as trouble starters and not protesters. I feel they earned every thing they got once they started arguing and and physically resisting.

Allow me to put some perspective on this:

If you protest the arrest of someone caught shoplifting (a victimless crime!) by shoplifting - guess what's gonna happen?

If you want to demostrate on public lands, you'se gonna need a permit.

As McCoy said: "How can you get a permit to do a dam illegal thing?"

As god is my witness, I loathe attention-whores more than Illinois Nazis.

How about some background info on Adam vs The Man? This sounds a lot like the so-called free speech movement of the 60's. What are they protesting? What's their reason for this?

One line of the Oberwetter decision says a lot: "In creating and maintaining the Jefferson Memorial in particular, the
government has dedicated a space with a solemn commemorative purpose
that is incompatible with the full range of free expression that is
permitted in public forums."

This is from the Adam vs The Man website: "Tonight on ADAM VS THE MAN with Adam Kokesh: Welcome to – THE – ADAM VS
THE MAN – SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER special! Congratulations to all of our
viewers completing a term of forced government indoctrination. Adam is
here to help you unlearn what you have learned and start learning about
what really matters. NEVER let your schooling – get in the way of your
education. Stefan Molyneux
joins Adam to explain how “children are people, too,” Students for
Liberty is in studio for a jobs forecast (it’s not going to be raining
jobs) – we’ll play “IS IT A SCHOOL, OR IS IT A PRISON” and we’ve got
Brett Veinotte of the “School Sucks” Podcast! And dancing! And singing! School’s out, but class is in!"

Sounds to me like some kind of immature attention getting effort by someone who has some kind of bone to pick with someone. There is obviously some background information that is missing from the article here and in the video.

This is a sad day when you can be assaulted and detained for dancing in a memorial built to honor one of the greatest advocates of liberty and free expression the world has witnessed.

Those those who think this police action is justified:

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty. – Thomas Jefferson

I read a whole bunch of gobbledegook on the website. Doesn't seem to make much sense but seems to be either a radical right or radical left political site. Here's another example:
"Tonight on ADAM VS THE MAN with Adam Kokesh: Thank you, thank you, thank
you. According to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel as quoted in the
Washington Post after we were told that no one from the Metro Authority
would be speaking to the media until after the investigation, “We’ve
certainly heard from the public about it.” And it has been announced
that the absurd assault charges against the victim of the wheelchair
police assault have been dropped. Adam has more on that and talks to Tim
Cox from GOOOH to explain how G – O – O – O – H (get out of our house) is NOT actually pronounced “goo.” Rand Paul,
despite being the subject of absurd attacks from silly lefties is
standing up for their rights too! He’s been doing his best to stop the
unPATRIOT ACT and Utah goes for the gold! Money that is. Adam catches up
with Stefan Molyneux to
explain how this means the end of democracy (that’s a good thing.) LONG
LIVE THE REPUBLIC! That is, until the necessary evil of government is no
longer necessary. You’re watching ADAM VS THE MAN."

You disagree with him, so what. Does this anyone the right to body slam, choke, assault, arrest, and detain a fellow citizen? They were harming no one.

"This sounds a lot like the so-called free speech movement of the 60's." --- or maybe it is just like the "so-called" civil liberties movement at lunch counters during the 50's and 60's.... this is dangerous ground you tred on when you start picking and choosing who's free speech and expression is "okay"

Anonymous, there is obviously much more behind this video. It's very easy to edit video to make the cops look like total bad guys.

I'd very much like to hear the entire story. Unedited.

You would seem to be one of those liberals intent on perfecting the 'nanny state'. I hope you never achieve such a dream as even yourself would deeply regret it!

While I get the people were there for that reason, trying to stir things up and make an anti-government video, I am not sure I understand why the officer could not or would not cite what law was being broken. Also, near the end the officer told the cameraman you're not allowed to video in here. Really? I've always had my video camera on vacation trips to the DC monuments. Was I breaking a law without knowing it?

Your right sir. People kissing or slow dance in public is just a vile act of terrorism and against everything America stands for. I also suggest we arrest anyone with Obama or palin shirts and Any other form of political expression should either be forced to strip or down or go to jail. Obviously stripping down should send you directly to jail. Any sort of singing via from child or adult in jail too. Long hair also an offense, and individuals thar are Muslims. Obviously the officer should be unable to explain what law you are being arrested for and generally waste I mean correctly use tax payer money.

Obviously at no point should anyone just be escorted off the site with a warning, placing in handcuffs because the officer is annoyed is the correct response. Remember at no point are any of the individual have rights or pay taxes that pay for these officers.

Well here I go again.
One question after viewing the video and reading the comments: What happened to good old COMMON SENSE ?
This has become my favorite phrase recently in light of all the regulations, policies, litigations and best available science.
I got to tell you that in my opinion, it's a TIE.
I think both sides had some good points (and as many of you know, I am a little miffed with the NPS right now) and both sides wound up looking stupid. So it's a wash. Both sides had the opportunity to come out a winner if only either had used a little COMMON SENSE.
I hope you messed up on your attempt to enlighten us about "Adam" because I didn't understand much of it. But, I'm probably not supposed to.

Ron (obxguys)

Medea Benjamin, Adam Kokesh, and Co. got exactly what they wanted with their publicity stunt: lots of publicity, arrests, and unwarranted sympathy for their claim that they live in a police state.

Civil disobedience results in arrests. If you don't get arrested, you've failed. If you resist when an officer attempts to make an arrest, pain is a likely result. Especially if the officer you're resisting is smaller and less physically strong than you are. (That's why bars hire bouncers who are built like refrigerators.)

Read the D.C. Circuit Court ruling from May 17, 2011, if you want to know what led to the disturbance.

PS. It was most assuredly _not_ a flash mob.

Don't feel to sorry for these folks geting arrested. They do it on a regular basis. They are part of the group Codepink and have staged demonstrations may times that have gotten them arrested. They are not innocent victims. Seems ironic that they are complaining about being in a police state, but if their Marxist/Communist/Socialist political views are implemented they would really have a police state.

Ron, those things were clipped directly from this group's website. As I read through a lot of their gibberish, I was completely bewildered by whatever "message" they are trying to get across.

the government has dedicated a space with a solemn commemorative purpose that is incompatible with the full range of free expression that is permitted in public forums.

Really! the Jefferson Memorial. is incompatibel with free expression?

The only reason the Park Police looked bad in this...is because they were bad.. the reponse by the sargent should have been to cut in.Make this the non-event it should have been

That , I can understand. Where do these guys come from ?

The participants were fairly warned, and repeatedly. They were clearly there to provoke an incident. The law has been reitterated clearly for them, and repeatedly.
Were I visiting at that time, I wouldn't want to visit the Jefferson or any of the US state park monuments in the DC Area and have out-of-place dancing happening around me.
These people were clearly there to dance purely because it's Inappropriate, unwelcome and deemed illegal expression. The law of the parks states clearly that these monuments are not considered Public Areas for protest or self-expression, but for historical visitation and solemn appreciation. How do you arrive at a place for solemn appreciation and discover visitors who are dancing and otherwise choosing to draw attention to themselves. Not considerate of the other park visitors at all.
A Police state? they would not have gotten such repeated fair warning in "police state" people...you think protestors in China or Singapore would ever get repeated fair warning that what they are about to do is a breech and against the law? You think these characters and provocateurs and instigators would not have been tazed in any real Police State? Heck ya, they would have. Tazed to unconsciousness, baby!
They would not have been warned and they would not have been merely subdued with necessary trips and holds.
The people who were there to "dance" knew what they were doing was illegal and inappropriate.
They would be better served by finding something more constructive to do with your anger.

yes, they have the right. These guys were not going peacefully. They were resisting arrest. If they were making a peaceful protest, they turn, willingly and put their hands behind their backs. These protesters were not peacefully there to dance. They were angrily there to resist arrest because They Felt They Were Being Wronged. That's not a peaceful protest.
IMHO, MLK would be ashamed.

What on earth does MLK have to do with this?

One person was in a Code Pink shirt, but I assure this was not organized by Code Pink. Adam Kokesh, one of the main organizers is a verteran of Iraq who now opposes the war. He ran for congress in 2010 as a Republican in New Mexico. His positions are mostly libertarian, anti-war, and pro liberty.

All of you who are siding with the police on this: Just remember...when they knock down your door and enter your home ... and take anything and everything they want from you. They can enter any home at any time they please RIGHT NOW, without a warrant. They can plant drugs (or whatever illegal item) in your home, arrest you for possessing said item, and you will rot in jail the rest of your life. None of you seem to realize that our freedoms are gone, and this country is no longer the America we knew and loved. Some of my ancestors (mother's side of family) fought in the Revolutionary War. Now, their deaths were in vain. America has never been perfect, but she was OUR country. "With liberty and justice for all" - remember?

This comment was edited to remove some overly strong wording. -- Ed.

Anonymous, I'm afraid you've been partaking of paranoia inducing hallucinogens or something.

Or are you one of the people involved with Adam and his friends?

[gratuitous remark removed] Its safe to dance. Thomas Jefferson loved to play music and "Dance a Jig or two." Wonder what he would think of this jargon, no dancing policy that goes against our Constitutional Rights. America's government today makes me physically ill. If our Forefathers only knew...

I will give kudos to the Park Police in handling this illegal demonstration. I believe they were very professional, and it's hard to stay professional when you have jerks like this in your face. This video shows the immaturity of those participating in this demonstration. Anyone notice the sign just outside of the memorial that asks for quiet? Then the guy yelling is absurd thoughts while being taken away by park police, he was very informed of what a model citizen is supposed to be like.

By the way when someone is actively resisting arrest, and interfering with an officer as the one idiot did when he came to his buddies rescue only to be put on the ground and handcuffed himself, you get put on the ground and pain compliance is part of it. Knees on the head while handcuffing in the prone position is a standard law enforcement technique.

I wouldn't worry too much about these idiots, they will have their day in court and I hope they request a trial by jury and this video is the first evidence they show. I believe they got more than enough of a warning. the officer in charge made it clear that they would be arrested, so why are they whining about it?

Kudos to the park police officers who handled the situation the best they could for dealing with a bunch of immature punks.

KEEP ON DANCING! Next time I am in DC, which is regularly, I will be making a trip to dance my heart away, in silence of course! They oppress all of us- well I guess they could send us all to FEMA camps.
Those supporting the cops probably never leave the house and are fine with big corporations running their mind through regulated propaganda tv. I personally will never stop dancing.

Bridget or someone -- will someone please explain who these people are and what they are protesting? And why? What is behind all this?

I worked at GWU the year that MLK did his "Tent City" gig on the natioonal mall. I was there. There were a lot of people dancing. Now we have a national holiday to commemorate Martin. Chief C. and your minions, wake up, this is America!

To Lee Dalton, Lee, it's about non violent freedom of expression! i.e. the First Amendment?

That's only a very partial explanation. What's the rest of it?

The rest of it is a court ruling that said that dancing is prohibited in the memorial even if done silently. Since the location is public property, not private property, it is imperitive that free speach and expression be upheld. The constitution could not be more clear on this and leaves NO grey area.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech....or the right of people to peaceably assemble.
That is why the people are dancing.

What a great Country we live in. Our Founding Fathers would be proud.
It provides everyone the right of Free Speech and Freedom to Peaceably Assemble.
It also provides everyone the right to Express Stupidity.
Nough Said.

Come on guys, we have had protests all over the city, we as police officers know that they are only dancing and dancing is protected uner the first amendment.

As a cop in DC I have seen much worse in the 1970's and we didn't lock them up or throw them on the ground for dancing. These are our people for God's sake.

i just graduated from the university of virginia this past may and this saddens me greatly.

Arent the physical arrests themselves a violation of the rules. What was more disruptive?

No way the gov. gonna be a hypocrite.