NEW YORK -- The First Amendment rights of anti-war demonstrators have not been violated by the city's decision to block them from marching past the United Nations on Saturday, a federal judge has ruled.
Citing "this time of heightened security," U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones said Monday that the city's need to protect the public outweighs the right of demonstrators to proceed with plans to march past the U.N.
"While the court recognizes the distinct importance of marching, the city's restriction on marching is not a restriction on pure speech, but rather a restriction on the manner in which plaintiff may communicate its message," Jones wrote.
The city has permitted the protesters to demonstrate in a designated area near the United Nations. The demonstration is being organized by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of anti-war groups that is sponsoring rallies throughout the world on Saturday.
Leslie Cagan, a leader of the coalition, said the group will appeal the ruling.
"We are outraged that Judge Jones did not see fit to uphold our fundamental constitutional right of the people to engage in peaceful marches. It is yet another example of the damage that is being done to our constitutional democracy in a post 9-11 environment," she said.
A message left with the city law office was not immediately returned.
In her ruling, Jones noted that the United Nations was "uniquely sensitive among locations in New York City because of its function, our country's treaty obligations and its history as a terrorist target."
She said that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the city has banned all demonstrations, parades or other public events in front of the United Nations.
"This policy is all inclusive, makes no reference to the content of the regulated speech and does not distinguish between event organizers or their views," she said.
Jones also agreed with the city's argument that the march is expected to be too large for the police department to secure the safety of the landmark.
Saying that police concerns about security threats were "far from theoretical," the judge noted that the U.N. was among five landmarks targeted by terrorists in a failed plot in 1993. A dozen men were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
The judge also cited an attack in October by a lone gunman who jumped over an iron gate and fired seven gunshots, breaking windows on the 18th and 19th floors.
The city rejected the parade permit because police could not assure public safety for up to 100,000 people without better information from organizers, city lawyer Rachel Goldman argued in court last week.
"The First Amendment right is not absolute. The plaintiffs do not have a right to march or protest any way they want, wherever they want and how they want," Goldman said. "We don't have a general ban against protest marches in the city of New York."
Chris Dunn, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, argued that the city was using "a theoretical possibility something terrible is going to happen to cancel the right of people to participate in peaceful protest."
He accused the city of quietly adopting a blanket policy of refusing parade permits for certain parts of Manhattan.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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