Article from NY Newsday

A group of Arab-Americans and other protesters will find out Monday morning whether a federal judge in Manhattan will force the city to allow them to hold a large demonstration on Central Park's Great Lawn on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

Judge William H. Pauley III said Friday he will have his decision by 11 a.m. Monday on whether City Hall improperly denied a permit for the demonstration in June.

After listening to legal arguments and testimony about the free-speech battle, which pits the National Council of Arab Americans and an anti-war coalition, against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, Pauley tried to prod the parties to work out a compromise.

"I get the sense somewhere there may be a middle ground that may be arrived at here," Pauley said after more than two hours of legal arguments and testimony.

He added that the issue is "an impasse that, quite frankly, the court is in a difficult position to decide."

The Arab council and the coalition — Act Now To Stop War & End Racism, or ANSWER — applied in January for an Aug. 28 permit to rally 75,000 people on the Great Lawn, where they were to call for an end to racial and religious profiling and advance equal rights for Arabs and Muslims in the United States. The city denied their request on June 15.

Testifying yesterday, Brian Becker, who is coordinating the rally, said the lawn was chosen because it has come to symbolize free speech rights.

"The Great Lawn is to New York what the National Mall is to Washington, D.C.," he said.

Becker testified that the city never gave a specific reason for denying the permit. He said that in recent weeks the Department of Parks and Recreation has given what where shifting reasons.

Those reasons, Becker's lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said, generally revolved around fears of damage to the lawn, the renovation of which was completed in 1998.

Later statements by city officials about the grass, fear of increased destruction of the landscape if rain fell and the need to control admission by ticketing were pretexts for an unconstitutional denial of a permit because of the political nature of the event, Verheyden-Hilliard argued.

Special corporation counsel Gail Donoghue stressed in her argument that the city had a real fear that rain during the rally would destroy the lawn.

She also said that while 28 permits for demonstrations during the Republican National Convention were granted, the coalition's rally — as well as one sought by United for Peace and Justice for Aug. 29 — would ruin the grass.

Donoghue explained that horticulturists and other experts believe the lawn's surface can sustain six mass-crowd events a year, four of which have already occurred.

Copyright ? 2004, Newsday, Inc.



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