Government

Marion responds to ACLU letter regarding demonstrations

City officials to change how they enforce existing ordinance

Marion City Hall
Marion City Hall

MARION — In response to the American Civil Liberties Union, Marion’s attorney says the city no longer plans to enforce an ordinance that required demonstrators to notify officials of their event 72 hours in advance.

City Attorney Anne Kruse’s Jan. 18 letter outlining the city’s intentions was in response to a letter sent by the ACLU on Jan. 17 on behalf of Rick Stewart, a former candidate for Linn County sheriff, who argued that Marion police and a city code violated his right to public political protest.

In the ACLU letter, Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa’s legal director, described a Sept. 23 incident during which she said Stewart was holding signs in support of presidential candidate Gary Johnson while standing in a public median on Seventh Avenue next to the Marion City Square Park.

At about 6:25 p.m., a Marion police officer gave Stewart a copy of Marion city code section 42.08(1) on parades, marches, walks and demonstrations, she said.

The code deems any parade, demonstration, march or rally unlawful without a permit, even if the activity is taking place on public ground. Application for a permit must be filed with the city clerk, containing a description of the proposed activities, their duration and location. The application must be filled out 72 hours before the event.

The officer told Stewart he could not continue the demonstration without a permit, according to the ACLU letter.

In the response letter, Kruse said there would be no enforcement of the application portion of the ordinance “so long as there is not a situation where a person would be placed in certain danger of immediate harm.”

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Kruse said because Stewart was in the middle of a public median in a highly-trafficked area during a busy time, his and other pedestrians and drivers’ safety could have been compromised.

“The idea is to ensure safety while protecting people’s rights to free speech,” Kruse said.

Kruse said the portion of the ordinance may soon be reviewed by the Marion City Council.

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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