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ADF attorneys ask for free speech to be restored at U.S. national parks

ADF attorneys ask court to review regulations used to silence Christian at Mt. Rushmore
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WASHINGTON — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a notice of appeal Monday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Boardley v. U.S. Department of the Interior, asking the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review federal regulations that require even individuals to apply for a permit before exercising their First Amendment rights in designated areas of national parks across the country.  ADF filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Minnesota man prohibited from passing out religious literature near the visitor’s center at Mt. Rushmore National Park.

“The First Amendment is our permit to engage in free speech on public property,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker.  “It’s unbelievable that the National Park Service would deny freedom of speech at our national parks, especially at the foot of Mt. Rushmore, where four men who represent America’s freedoms are immortalized.”

On Aug. 9, 2007, Michael Boardley and a few other individuals passed out gospel tracts near the front entrance of Mt. Rushmore without incident or comment from park officials.  The next day, a park ranger approached them and informed them that they had to have a speech permit.  Without the permit, they could not distribute the tracts, but it would take two days to obtain one.  After Boardley returned home, he made multiple requests for a permit, but the permit never arrived.  The Park Service did not grant Mr. Boardley a permit until after ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit on Nov. 2, 2007.

On March 17, 2009, the district court found that one of the regulations challenged in the lawsuit facially violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  The focus of the appeal is the regulations’ requirement that even individuals must obtain a permit in advance before they may engage in speech in designated areas of national parks.

“The government cannot require small groups and individuals to obtain a permit before exercising their constitutional rights,” said Hacker.  “It is our hope that this appeal will restore free speech and religious freedom not just for Mr. Boardley, but for others visiting national parks and monuments as well.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.  Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.