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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.


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".

Ban dance is WRONG. (capoeira)

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.

When making an arrest and asked by the person being arrested to cite the specific law under which the arrest is being made, an officer would be foolish to try to provide chapter and verse.  Few of us ever had the entire CFR memorized and making a mistake, especially on camera, would be a serious detriment to the case.  We were taught to make the arrest when we knew it was on solid ground and leave the arguments up to attorneys later.

The officers in this case had explained and explained and explained for quite some time before moving in to make the arrests.  That part was edited out.

Putting on my devil's advocate hat for a minute or two, I think we all can agree that the "dancers" went into the memorial intending to force an encounter with the Park Police.

We also can debate whether the police used excessive force; 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.

I think the question that rises above both the intentions of the "dancers" and the reaction of the police is whether the regulation against dancing is a sound one? Frankly, I'd find it more distracting to be in the memorial listening to other visitors chattering loudly away on their cellphones than a handful or two slow dancing quietly.

And how uniformly is this regulation against dancing enforced across the park system? An initial response from Park Service officials today when asked what other units of the National Park System are considered "non-public forums" where this sort of dancing might be outlawed cited the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

OK, but what about:

* Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

* Manzanar National Historic Site

* Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

* Gettysburg National Military Park

* Andersonville National Historic Site

Certainly, those and similar units would be more appropriate for a measure or two of decorum than a memorial that honors a man who said, The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.

In 1984 the Supreme Court addressed a similar claim by the Community for Creative Nonviolence who wanted to stage a "camp-in" in Lafayette Park across from the White House. The NPS prohibited the CCNV from sleeping overnight in the park because of a regulatory prohibition against "camping." CCNV challenged the NPS actions by claiming, among other things, a free speech infringement. The Supreme Court upheld the actions of the NPS. In his concurring opinion Chief Justice Burger stated:

"The actions here claimed as speech entitled to the protections
of the First Amendment simply are not speech; rather, they constitute
conduct. As Justice Black, who was never tolerant of limits on
speech, emphatically pointed out in his separate opinion in
Cox v. Louisiana,
379 U.S. 536, 578 (1965):

"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.)

Respondents' attempt at camping in the park is a form of "picketing";
it is conduct, not speech. Moreover, it is conduct that interferes
with the rights of others to use Lafayette Park for the purposes
for which it was created. Lafayette Park and others like it
are for all the people, and their rights are not to be trespassed
even by those who have some "statement" to make. Tents, fires,
and sleepers, real or feigned, interfere with the rights of others
to use our parks. 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.

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."

I dunno, guy.
Anyone who ever saw Blaze Starr dance knew what she was saying, and that also included numerous judges, justices, and governors.

Maybe next the Park Police can stop and arrest people from crying in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That is so annoying....


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