“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” – Samuel Adams

Appeals Court Removes Gag at ‘Mt Hushmore’

Near the entranceway of Mount Rushmore (File photo)

WASHINGTON — A federal appellate court ruling declared Friday that federal regulations requiring individuals and groups to have permits in order to exercise their First Amendment rights in “free speech areas” and public forums at national parks and monuments are unconstitutional. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior on behalf of Michael Boardley after a ranger at Mount Rushmore National Memorial stopped him and others for passing out religious literature without a permit near the park’s visitor center.

“The First Amendment is the only permit a Christian or any American needs to engage in free speech on public property. The court was right to reach this conclusion,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “Certainly, it made no sense to enforce unconstitutional regulations that deny free speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore–a place where four men who championed America’s freedoms are immortalized in stone.”

“It is unlawful to engage in expressive activities within any of this country’s 391 national parks unless a park official first issues a permit authorizing the activity. Michael Boardley argues this licensing scheme is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional on its face. We agree,” states the opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “Requiring individuals and small groups to obtain permits before engaging in expressive activities within designated ‘free speech areas’ (and other public forums within national parks) violates the First Amendment…. We have no choice but to hold the regulations unconstitutional in their entirety.”

“This important decision means that Mr. Boardley and all Americans who visit our beautiful national parks and monuments will be able to exercise their free speech and religious expression rights without further unconstitutional barriers,” said ADF Legal Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker.

In August 2007, Boardley and a few others passed out gospel tracts near the front entrance of Mount Rushmore without incident or comment from park officials. The next day, a park ranger approached the small group and informed them that in order to distribute the tracts, they had to have a speech permit–which would have taken two days to obtain. Boardley returned home to Minnesota and made multiple requests for a permit, but the document never arrived. The park service did not grant Boardley a permit until ADF attorneys filed the federal lawsuit Boardley v. U.S. Department of the Interior with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in November 2007.

In March 2009, the district court found that a portion of one of the regulations challenged in the lawsuit was unconstitutional. However, ADF attorneys filed an appeal with the D.C. Circuit in May 2009 contesting the continued requirement that individuals, not just groups, must obtain a permit in advance before engaging in free speech or distributing literature in designated areas of national parks across the country. Friday’s decision in the lawsuit reversed the district court’s ruling that upheld the problematic regulations.

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.


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12 Responses to “Appeals Court Removes Gag at ‘Mt Hushmore’”

  1. Happily, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled properly in their decision to strike down the onerous restrictions on free speech, but that it even required court action points up a sad fact of modern America.

    The legal authority of the Constitution has been subjugated to the arbitrary interpretation of judges. The clear language of the Constitution should have been sufficient to prevent or negate such a provision and the agency issuing it should have been held responsible for attempting to deny the rights of Americans. Some heads should have summarily rolled at the outset.

  2. Too right, Dr. Theo.

    From the beginning, the health and survival of our republic has always depended on an informed and engaged citizenry. We have fallen down on the job.

    We must start demanding that tyrants in the executive branch and judicial activists be held accountable. If that is in the form of recalling judges, then that's what we must do. If it is demanding that our elected representatives in congress impeach judges who show contempt for the Constitution and freedom, that is what we must do. And if they refuse to do their duty when we demand it, we must hold them accountable at the ballot box.

    If we sit around on our hands waiting for someone else to defend the Constitution and our freedom much longer, all will be lost.

  3. I found the following quote that is apropos to the discussion:
    “To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.” –Thomas Jefferson: Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779. ME 2:302, Papers 2: 546

  4. People don't come to national parks to be harangued about Jesus. There are plenty of churches for that for those who are so disposed, and they're welcome to it. Charlotte, N.C., has 700, for example.

  5. So just keep it in the four walls of a church and don't let it intrude on the “real world,” eh? Just do away with over 200 years of religious freedom so you can remain in blissful ignorance, eh?

  6. It's just common sense. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. People don't go to national parks to be harangued about Jesus. And people don't buy homes to have Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking to share the good news that a mythic figure died 2,000 years ago for sins they haven't even committed yet.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Disqus
    To: [email protected]
    Sent: Saturday, August 07, 2010 5:34 PM
    Subject: [dakotavoice] Re: Appeals Court Removes Gag at 'Mt Hushmore'

    Bob Ellis wrote, in response to plankbob:

    So just keep it in the four walls of a church and don't let it intrude on the “real world,” eh? Just do away with over 200 years of religious freedom so you can remain in blissful ignorance, eh?

    Link to comment: http://disq.us/jr98q

  7. All you have to do is tell them, “No thanks” whether it be in a park or at your door.

    No need to be so hostile to people's freedom.

  8. Do you remember the beginning of the movie Airplane where Ted was trying to make his way through a gauntlet of Hari Krishnas, flower children, and other religious groups to get to Elaine's terminal…?

    It was funny because it was true… and granted it was exaggerated, it still demonstrates perfectly why these sorts of bans were adopted in the first place.

  9. That was funny, but I've traveled airports around the world for 25 years and I can't remember being offered any religious literature once.

    No, these sort of bans were adopted in the first place because some people are hostile to Christianity and don't want Christians exercising their freedom. Okay to be accosted by every other form of solicitation under the sun, but not the philosophy that produced the greatest nation in human history.

  10. Actually, that's what I do tell, and that I don't appreciate their intrusion.
    Re people's freedom: I bet that's just what you tell Scott Roeder and Randall Terry and all the serial harassers of women walking legally into Planned Parenthood.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Disqus
    To: [email protected]
    Sent: Saturday, August 07, 2010 6:53 PM
    Subject: [dakotavoice] Re: Appeals Court Removes Gag at 'Mt Hushmore'

    Bob Ellis wrote, in response to plankbob:

    All you have to do is tell them, “No thanks” whether it be in a park or at your door.

    No need to be so hostile to people's freedom.

    Link to comment: http://disq.us/jrezu

  11. Thank you for acknowledging that this is “solicitation,” not speech…

    And that right there is the problem… because once you open the door to allow religious solicitation, it gives “every other form of solicitation under the sun” a foot in the door, too.

    Do you really want groups like NAMBLA or the Klan piggybacking on this court's ruling?

  12. It is both speech and solicitation, and neither is dirty in and of themselves.

    If you've ever been to Mt. Rushmore, you've been “solicited” to pay $10 to park there, and unless you have tunnel vision, you'll also be “solicited” to buy a can of soda, a meal, ice cream, t-tshirts, caps, books, pencils and a host of other things below the monument. Nobody freaks out over any of that, but to simply be offered a tract can make an atheist or secularist froth at the mouth. It would be hysterical…if the reaction didn't involve the push to deny people their rights.