HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Better Path Coalition announced an interim settlement today with the city of Harrisburg that lifts most of the city’s conditions for the coalition’s Pennsylvania Climate Convergence in June. The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed last month by the coalition over the city’s numerous and costly demands before issuing permits for the event, which is scheduled from June 11-13.
The settlement paves the way for the Pennsylvania Climate Convergence to go forward with appropriate permits, while the city agreed to drop most of its original conditions, including that the coalition reimburse the city for parking fees lost due to the coalition’s planned march on June 12 and for police presence at the march, that the coalition notify local businesses and residents of its plans, and that the event’s organizers assume liability for anything that occurs at the event.
Over the next 90 days, the city also will begin the process of revising its ordinance governing the use of parks “to include well-defined, content-neutral and narrowly-tailored provisions consistent with applicable First Amendment law(,)” according to the language of the settlement.
“All municipalities must allow free expression in public spaces, without the burden of arbitrary conditions on political speech,” said Stephen Loney, senior supervising attorney of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “As the state capital, it is incredibly important that Harrisburg has a clear process for the use of public spaces. The people must have the ability to carry their message to the commonwealth’s elected officials. We are grateful that city officials and their legal team recognized this fundamental value and agreed to work with us and our clients toward a reasonable solution.”
The settlement did not finally resolve every issue raised in the lawsuit, so the Better Path Coalition agreed to place $1186 in escrow to cover some of the city’s fees and to purchase insurance for the festival on day one of the event, as the city and the coalition’s lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania continue to litigate the constitutionality of those requirements. If the coalition prevails on those issues, they will recover the funds placed in escrow, and the city will reimburse them for the cost of the insurance.
The Pennsylvania Climate Convergence will feature a festival of arts, music, theater, and talks on June 11, followed by a march on June 12, and a “day of action” at the state capitol on June 13.
“We set out to organize a family-friendly event because we want people to feel good about bringing their children. After all, they will inherit the world we leave to them and so we want their voices to be heard above all others when we demand aggressive action on the climate crisis from our government,” said Karen Feridun, one of the co-founders of the Better Path Coalition and a plaintiff in the case. “What we discovered when we tried working through the process was that there really isn’t one. We are heartened to know that our experience will help to change that for organizers of future events, and we are grateful to all the parties involved for working together to make sure our event will go ahead the way we envisioned it.”
“Our clients have a message that they feel should be heard, and the city has a duty to ensure that they are able to voice that message publicly without government interference,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We look forward to seeing the results of these negotiations as Harrisburg works to streamline its process for public events and park use.”
More information about this case, including a copy of the announced settlement, is available at aclupa.org/BetterPathCoalition.