Update: On July 19, 2018, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the City of Cambridge announced that a settlement has been reached between the City and Massachusetts Peace Action and Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund.
The ACLU of Massachusetts is challenging the City of Cambridge’s policy of charging event organizers for public safety services as a condition for granting permits for rallies and demonstrations in Cambridge parks. The lawsuit, filed in Middlesex Superior Court, calls for an end to a practice that deters political participation.
In the fall of 2017, Massachusetts Peace Action – together with other organizations and individuals – began planning a Massachusetts Women’s March to be held on Cambridge Common in January 2018. Despite successfully completing the permitting process and paying permit application fees in advance of the event, the organizers were told less than two weeks before the event that they could be additionally charged for public safety needs, including police coverage and emergency medical services.
Shortly after the event, the organizers received bills totaling thousands of dollars for police details and emergency medical technician services and were told that more – including invoices for police details from neighboring cities and towns – would be forthcoming. In the intervening months, the organizers and the ACLU made several attempts to resolve the matter with the City without the need for litigation. Those efforts were not successful.
The lawsuit contends that charging for basic public safety services for “expressive events and assemblies” in public forums is inconsistent with the First Amendment, violates Massachusetts’ free speech and assembly protections, and constitutes an unlawful tax on free speech and assembly rights.
- Boston Globe: After ACLU lawsuit, Cambridge will no longer charge for safety services at protests
- Cambridge Day: Cambridge settles with organizers of protest; new policy waives some fees for public safety
- ACLU of Massachusetts Press Release: Settlement reached in Cambridge ‘speech and assembly public safety charges’ case
- Spare Change News: ACLU Challenges Cambridge Tax on Events and Demonstrations in Public Parks