The National Council of Arab Americans (NCA) and the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) are filing a major lawsuit in Federal District Court in New York City to support the right of assembly in the Great Lawn of Central Park for all those who are expressing political opposition to the domestic program and war policies of the Bush administration in the days before and during the Republican National Convention.
The lawsuit is in response to the denial of a permit sought by the National Council of Arab Americans for a mass civil rights rally on August 28, 2004. In addition to seeking to overturn the permit denial, the lawsuit seeks to constrain the unbridled discretion of the city, which has threatened to penalize those who express differing political speech in Central Park. Attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice and the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee are filing the suit.
In January 2004, the National Council of Arab Americans filed a permit application for a mass demonstration on the Great Lawn in Central Park for August 28, the 41st anniversary of the historic civil rights March on Washington. The purpose of the event was to rally in defense of civil rights and civil liberties particularly for the Arab American and Muslim communities. Thousands of Arab Americans and Muslims in the United States have had their rights routinely violated by the Bush-Ashcroft administration, which has used the events of September 11 as a pretext to implement a system of unconstitutional racial and religious profiling.
"The Bloomberg administration, the NYC Police Department and the NYC Government have exhibited open contempt for the free speech rights of those who hold a political position opposing the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policy," stated counsel for the plaintiffs Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice and co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee.
"Central Park is the heart of the city and political speech is the heart of democracy. As such, the plaintiffs cannot be excluded from exercising their free speech rights," stated Carol Sobel, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and also counsel on the case.
Although the Great Lawn of Central Park has been used in the past for mass assembly, the "Mayor, the Parks Department and the NYPD are now acting as a shield for the Bush administration and the Republican Convention, and have worked to obstruct, inhibit and thwart protected free speech mass assembly in Central Park. Denying their political opponents a right to gather in Central Park's Great Lawn, the Mayor and the police have tried to marginalize mass demonstrations," continued Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard.
"We filed for this permit eight months ago to secure for the Arab American and Muslim communities the constitutional right to express our views on matters vital not only to ourselves but also to all people and to the future of this country. As a targeted community, we wanted to empower our people and stand together in solidarity with all who have been struggling for civil rights and liberties over the years on the 41st anniversary of the historic March on Washington," said Elias Rashmawi, national coordinator of the NCA. "Like all, Arab Americans and Muslims have the absolute guarantee that they could assemble and exercise their constitutional rights in the Great Lawn of Central Park. Along with our allies, we had called for this rally with the purpose of expressing a powerful affirmation of civil rights and civil liberties for all communities that have been targeted with racial and religious profiling by the Bush Administration and the Justice Department," he continued.
"The Bush Administration has declared war against the national, social and civil rights of people around the world who face U.S. war and occupation. The demonstrations during the week of the RNC will stand up for peoples' rights both in the United States and around the world," stated Brian Becker, national coordinator for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which has made the defense of Arab American and Muslim civil rights and opposition to racial and religious profiling a central part of its political organizing, is a co-plaintiff with the National Council of Arab Americans.
Funds are urgently needed to help support the legal challenge and other organizing activities in defense of free speech rights at the Republican National Convention. You can make an online donation using the secure server by clicking here. If you wish to make a tax-deductible contribution of $50 or more, mail a check payable to A.N.S.W.E.R./AGJ to: A.N.S.W.E.R., 1247 E St. SE Washington DC 20003. If you wish to make a credit card donation of $50 or more, please call 202-544-3389.
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