HARRISBURG, Pa. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania updated its complaint in a federal lawsuit against the city of Harrisburg, alleging that the city’s permit application process for public events is overly burdensome and a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Better Path Forward coalition, a group of community members who organize and advocate for solutions to the climate crisis and a clean, renewable-energy future.
In 2022, the Better Path Forward coalition sought to organize a Climate Convergence in Harrisburg to call on state leaders to take action on climate change. Ahead of the 2022 event, the coalition filed a lawsuit over the city’s problematic permit application process, which included a mandatory traffic management plan, proof of insurance coverage, fees to cover lost revenue for parking meters that would be out of use during the event, and other onerous requirements. The city does not have a permit ordinance for demonstrating on City streets, meaning City employees are left to make up the permitting process and change it at their discretion.
The city and the coalition had reached a temporary agreement that allowed for the 2022 Climate Convergence to take place while the City agreed to work on a permanent solution to its broken permitting process. However, the same issues remain unresolved as the coalition looks ahead to planning the 2024 Climate Convergence.
“Free speech and public demonstrations are a bedrock of our democracy,” said Mike Lee, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “When our state capital city has a moving target as a permitting system for public events, it discourages people from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. Harrisburg must do better.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the city of Harrisburg’s permitting scheme unconstitutional and forbid the city from enforcing those rules. It also requests the city cover legal fees for plaintiffs.
“We’ve been fighting these absurd event permitting rules in Harrisburg for years now,” said Stephen Loney, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This coalition is composed of volunteer community advocates; they are not experts at navigating the kind of red-tape bureaucracy that is being imposed by the city of Harrisburg. Nor should they have to be.”
You can read the full complaint at aclupa.org/BetterPathCoalition.