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National Park Service Responds To Dancing In The Thomas Jefferson Memorial


The National Park Service says that while it supports dancing in general, there are some places in the National Park System -- such as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial -- where it is inappropriate and banned. Kurt Repanshek photo.

The National Park Service today released a statement upholding the arrest of five people last week for dancing in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. While the statement said the agency "supports dancing and other forms of expression in its parks," it added that in some areas of the National Park System dancing is inappropriate and banned.

The arrests were made last Saturday when an organized group entered the memorial obviously intent on challenging Park Service regulations that ban dancing as both inappropriate for the setting and a form of protest that needs a permit. Those interpretations were formally reached when a woman who was arrested in 2008 for dancing in the memorial on Thomas Jefferson's birthday later sued the agency -- unsuccessfully -- for infringement of her First Amendment rights.

In upholding a lower court's ruling that went against Mary Oberwetter, 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 that any demonstration needed a permit.

This morning the Park Service released the following statement:

In light of recent headlines we would like to dispel some myths and misconceptions on what is legal and what is not across the federal park system.

First, the National Park Service has a long and proud tradition of supporting and encouraging First Amendment rights and dancing in our parks is a great way to do this, whether it is on the National Mall on the 4th of July with tens of thousands of people or by yourself in front of a waterfall out west. In fact we may be the only federal agency that is required by statute to provide for “enjoyment.”

But just as you may not appreciate someone using a cell phone in a movie theater or someone dancing in front of your view of a great work of art, we believe it is not appropriate to be dancing in an area that memorializes some of the most famous Americans.

Visitors come from all over the globe to pay respect to, and read the words of Thomas Jefferson.  These words, placed on the inner walls of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial chamber, are a moving testament of the good in humankind.  We believe our visitors should be able to enjoy this experience without distractions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals agrees.  In a May 17, 2011 decision, the court upheld National Park Service regulations that preserve the solemnity of the Thomas Jefferson National Memorial by prohibiting demonstrations of any kind within the chamber.   The court ruled specifically on the act of dancing and found no infringement of First Amendment rights to free speech or free expression.

To protest the court’s decision, a group of dancers convened at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial on May 30.  They were warned multiple times that dancing was not allowed and chose to continue.  Five people were arrested. Organizers of last week’s protest are now planning a larger demonstration this Saturday, June 4, advertising a “Dance Party @TJ.”

Nearly every day, the national parks of Washington, DC, are venues for the unfettered exercise of the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans. Marches, protests, rallies and other events on the National Mall engage hundreds of thousands of citizens every year in civic and civil debate over serious issues facing our nation. We are proud that federal park land is used for these events.

There are over 2.4 acres of space available to dance or express yourself on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial grounds.  We hope anyone who likes to dance in this area takes advantage of that space and allows our other visitors to enjoy a peaceful and inspiring experience in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial chamber.

U.S. Park Police Chief Theresa Chambers has not responded to requests concerning the conduct of Park Police in making the arrests -- videos of last Saturday's incident showed officers body-slamming someone to the ground and using apparent choke-holds and knees to pin a head on individuals who didn't seem to be threatening any of the officers -- and today's statement also didn't address that aspect of the matter.

But in a follow up request this morning Park Service spokesman David Barna said the matter was being reviewed.


We did know the law.  But sometimes under pressure, it's hard to remember the exact chapter, number and verse.  If you misquote anything, you're open to ripping by some defense attorney.

Even so, this whole thing -- protest, demonstration, whatever you choose to call it -- strikes me as outlandishly foolish and childish.  Somebody's mommy didn't pay enough attention when he was little and shouting for her to watch him jump off the diving board. 

There are simply some places where reverent quiet is appropriate.  Would these people try to "dance" at the Tomb of the Unknowns or at the altar of some great cathedral?

So far none of the posters here have provided an answer to the question, "WHY?"  What is it they are after?  And why are they after it?  How are they being harmed in any way by being asked to do their thing outside of the monument?

We were provided our rights under the Bill of Rights with the hope that Americans would exercise those rights with appropriate thoughtfullness and wisdom.  I fail to see much of that in the actions of these attention seekers.

"Well, maybe the guy "didn't seem to be threatening any of the officers", but he sure as heck wasn't doing what the Ranger was telling him to do. There's gazillions of miles to go dance; they were there for the publicity and to behave as spoiled brats the way their parents taught them.
a. he sure as heck WAS doing what he thought was fighting for his rights- what the cop didn't have to do is a damned body slam... y'know because "he didn't seem to be threatening".
b. the point of this protest was against zoning free speech. They are saying speech is free everywhere, you don't get to make little pockets of free speech area. The fact that there are loads of places to dance is irrelevant.

/Lee Dalton/
"We were taught to make the arrest when we knew it was on solid ground and leave the arguments up to attorneys later."
a. how do you know its on solid ground if you don't know the law? I think cops should be required to know the law for which they are arresting you. You did take an oath to uphold the constitution, so you should know the law to see if it doesn't violate the constitution.

/Kurt Repanchek/
"a good friend of mine who spent a couple of decades as a state trooper says the police were well within their boundaries for dealing with individuals who weren't willingly submitting to handcuffs."
a. they weren't well within morality, to do way more than you have to should be illegal- yes they were resisting, but were they really resisting enough to hip toss them to the groud? That's ridiculous.

"Of course, the Constitution guarantees that
people may make their "statements," but Washington has
countless places for the kind of "statement" these
respondents sought to make."
a. It's not countless if you minus some away from it.
/Justice Black a la Conduct/
"The First and Fourteenth Amendments, I think, take away from
government, state and federal, all power to restrict freedom
of speech, press, and assembly where people have a right to be
for such purposes. . . . Picketing, though it may be utilized
to communicate ideas, is not speech, and therefore is not of
itself protected by the First Amendment." (Emphasis in original;
citations omitted.)"
a. The federal government doesn't have that power anyway because it isn't specifically delegated to them. It takes no power away, it merely reinforces that you CAN NOT MAKE A LAW restricting free speech.
b. picketing is a part of speech because it communicates an idea, that is obviously what is meant by the first amendment. Speech is expression because it is our right to express what we want about whatever we want. We have the right to EVERYTHING that is not delegated specifically to the federal government or to the states. There is nothing in the constitution allowing them to restrict expression, ergo it is our protected right.

"It trivializes the First Amendment to seek to use it as a shield
in the manner asserted here. And it tells us something about
why many people must wait for their "day in court" when the time
of the courts is pre-empted by frivolous proceedings that delay
the causes of litigants who have legitimate, non-frivolous claims.
This case alone has engaged the time of 1 District Judge, an
en banc court of 11 Court of Appeals Judges, and 9 Justices of
this Court."
a. Maybe they shouldn't make it illegal, then it wouldn't be a problem would it?

"I am liberal, but I believe that "Freedom" <> "Do whatever the heck I want, when I want.""
a. Then you don't know what freedom is. Every law is an infringement on liberty and rights, we allow that freedom to be infringed in the name of the social contract, but the law should never reach outside the scope of the constitution.

"And if someone in authority tells you, for the common good and for common decency, that you should not do something, YOU SHOULD NOT DO IT."
a. Why should I listen to their authority if they're wrong? Should not, and "will get arrested if you do" are different concepts.

Inappropriateness is irrelevant to legality.

I know right? It offends me that it's been banned.

"Standard Police Doctrine, the use of force continuem. The officer is required to stay 1 level of force ahead of the people the are dealing with. You can hate it, but it best protects the officer and the bystanders from danger. If someone is refusing a command then you try to out talk them. If that fails then you use physical force (wrestling). If the suspect meets the wresting with their own wrestling then the next step up on the use of force comes up (tazer, asp, mace etc). This varries based on the weapons availible to the officer. It makes for bad videos, but it is 100% accepted tactics, that have been upheld by the courts and is the only way to respond."
a. It does make sense as long as you use common sense at the same time. These are peaceful protesters. They knew that they were coming well before they arrived- they knew that they were peaceful beforehand. What makes you think a peaceful group is likely to fight you when they already have their hands behind the back?

"Those dancers are true activists. Media Benjamin, one of the arrestees, is one of the creators of Global Exchange and Code Pink. These are extremely leftist leaning organizations working for the overthrow of this country. She lived in Castro's Cuba for a while and described living under that regime as "Dying and Going to Heaven".

It is evident that it was a challenge to see how far the activists could push the U. S. Park Police before they were arrested, which was their intent, and will most likely be this weekend. I also find it unreal that "Adam" took his case to the Russian press.

I would imagine that had the entire video been posted, not just the parts they wished to use to try and influence the public, it would have shown the step by step process used by the USPP that led up to the arrests.

Personally I loved to visit the memorial knowing it was a place of quiet solitude and do not think that Thomas Jefferson would be interested in activists who find living in a dictatorship as "Dying and Going to Heaven".
a. you don't know what the video would have shown, the fact that you assume shows your bias.
b. your opinion on the quiet solitude of the monument is irrelevant.
c. it's hearsay and speculation to assume what thomas jefferson would want without something to back it up
d. Thomas Jefferson was a fan of Voltaire who said "Though I disagree with what you say, I will fight to the death for your right to say it"
Fighting to the death for someone else's right to expression- including and especially if you disagree with them... like say communists who like to live under dictatorships.
You have a pale image of freedom.

@Jeanne Barnett ... It was a link from one of the posters through the facebook page "Dance Party @ TJ's"

Who are these people?  What are they protesting and why?  Help us understand what is behind all this.

Thank you!  I did actually manage to find comp. coverage at
this sure ain't the 60's, but at least it's something.  I agree with you, it should be done again and again until the MSM picks up on it and makes the American people do a little hard thinking about what we are willing to accept from our government. No dancing indeed!  The thought police are right around the corner.  BTW where did you get the live feed?

@ Jeanne Barnett

Yes... I watched the live stream from the protest Saturday
along with almost 2500 others. There were initially several hundreds of people
(not sure of the exact number) and they gathered on the steps before going into
the memorial. They Danced around the Statue for about 30 minutes, and then were
vocally planning to go outside to continue the protest with speeches on the
steps. The police had lined the edge of the Memorial... the memorial was lined
with metal gates except a single entrance. One officer wielded an assault rifle
while the others were in riot gear. By the time the protesters were already
moving outside for speeches, the cops began to descend, herding people out (the
officer with the assault rifle also), and closed the memorial. They continued speaking
on the steps of the Memorial for maybe an hour after that before everyone began
to disperse. There was no outward violence from the police that I know of, but
there were some people that I think were detained inside the memorial. Including
a guy that attended wearing a Thomas Jefferson costume who was dancing pretty
good, lol. I don't know if any arrests were made.

tended to wish they had been more persistent in their peaceful protest.
Perhaps, expecting something like the 60's (if you will), for everyone to sit
down and go limp... and make the cops drag them out, creating a high number of
arrests without resist... that would have got national coverage. The way it was
done, it didn't really seem to make as much a statement with people showing up
and dancing, but then (arguably) they left when the cops told them to. Overall,
the whole thing was over in a matter of a couple of hours (at least the live
feed anyway). I think they/we should do another one.

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others..." this quote from Thomas Jefferson himself says it all.  The equal rights of all the people in the memorial at the time of this video were not being infringed upon in any way by the people who were "dancing".  Even if the "dancers" did show up to make a statement, the PP reacted inappropriately - I saw no resistance from the couple embracing, in fact the minute the officers touched the couple, they stopped "dancing", the woman even stated that they were stopping, yet they were handcuffed and arrested anyway.   This is so disturbing on so many levelss, but what appalls me the most is that it clearly came down to a mental power play between the PP and the dancers.  The PP exercised inappropriate physical force, plain and simple.  This cannot be tolerated in a free country, and if it is tolerated, we are taking very dangerous steps toward a police state. BTW does anyone have any info on yesterday's Dancing Demonstrators?

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