(CN) – Pittsburgh must allow a group to set up a tent city and protest in the days leading up to next week’s Group of 20 meeting, but the city was within its rights to deny camping permits and a permit to rally on a bridge for other groups, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster ruled that CodePink Pittsburgh Women for Peace can set up a tent city in Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh for several days leading up to the summit, which takes place Sept. 24 and 25, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The Constitutional watchdog group teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue Pittsburgh and state and federal governments last Friday, accusing officials of purposefully delaying responses to permit applications.
Five other groups were joined in the lawsuit: 3 Rivers Thomas Merton Center; Pittsburgh Outdoor Artists; Bail Out The People and G-6 Billion Journey and Witness.
In his decision, Lancaster agreed with Pittsburgh that it would be unsafe to allow the Thomas Merton Center to end its march through the city on Sept. 25 and to rally on the Seventh Street Bridge, according to published reports. He also denied a request from the 3 Rivers Climate Convergence to camp out overnight because of the burden it would place on the city to clean up.
“We regret the judge did not see eye-to-eye with us allowing the groups to camp and rally,” CCR Vice President Jules Lobel said, adding that it was a “great victory” that CodePink can “erect a symbolic tent city in the main park in downtown Pittsburgh and be heard during the G-20.”
“Since the attacks of September 11,” Lobel added, “the climate of this country has gotten less sympathetic to free speech claims, and judges have gotten more sympathetic to claims of security. I think this is a trend that needs to be reversed.”
In his arguments in court, Lobel pointed out that politicians and unions had been granted permits to hold rallies and make speeches, while the peace and environment groups were shut out for “security” reasons.
“The crux of the argument was that the the First Amendment should not just be for the powerful but for everyone,” said Lobel. “The parks and the streets are for everyone to use.”
In their federal lawsuit filed last Friday, the groups accused Pittsburgh, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service of trampling their constitutional rights to peacefully demonstrate by denying permits to rally at the summit. The lawsuit also complained that officials delayed responding to permit applications.
The G-20 was formed in 1999 to bring countries together to discusses global economic issues. Member countries include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Plaintiffs are represented by Lobel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witold Walczak with the American Civil Liberties Union, and Michael Healey with Healey & Hornack.