by Chris Potter
Late last week, I wrote about a potential confrontation between the ACLU and the state's Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, the agency that manages Point State Park.
But almost before the fight began, the state is suspending the regulations that attracted the ACLU's ire. According to a press release just issued by the ACL:
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has agreed to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania's request that it immediately suspend enforcement of a statewide regulation that prohibits any "expression of views" or distribution of printed materials in state parks without first obtaining written permission.
Last week, ACLU legal director Vic Walczak told CP he was "flabbergasted" by the state regs, which resulted in city police and park rangers threatening two Green Party members -- and a balloon-twister -- with arrest. Turns out the regs have been in place for nearly 40 years ... but even the ACLU never noticed them:
Although the regulation has been in effect since 1971, apparently it has never been challenged before. One possible reason is that DCNR maintains only one urban park, which is Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. Individual and small-group demonstrations are rare in rural parks. While the ACLU’s Pittsburgh office has received complaints over the past decade about restrictions on political activity at Point State Park, they were always were always resolved by working with the Pittsburgh police and city solicitor’s office. The regulation was never cited as a reason for the restriction.
The regulation isn't likely to be cited any time soon, either. Yesterday the DCNR's attorney sent the ACLU a letter saying that the agency "appreciates your concern regarding the constitutionality of DCNR's regulation with respect to ... individuals or small groups." While pledging to review the law, the agency agreed not to suspend the regulation where such small numbers are involved.