The ACLU of Massachusetts and the City of Cambridge today announced that a settlement has been reached between the City and Massachusetts Peace Action and Massachusetts Peace Action Education Fund, two organizations that helped the January Coalition plan the 2018 Women’s March event on the Cambridge Common.
The settlement, effective immediately, resolves that, going forward, the City of Cambridge will not charge for public safety services for “Demonstration Events” – non-commercial expressive events like rallies, vigils, protests, and marches – in the City’s parks. The City’s websites will be updated to reflect this new policy. Per the settlement, the City of Cambridge will waive all charges for public safety services it arranged for in connection with the Women’s March.
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit challenging the City of Cambridge’s policy of charging event organizers for public safety services in connection with granting permits for large rallies and demonstrations in the City’s parks. Shortly after the January Women’s March event, Cambridge organizers received bills for police details and emergency medical services and were told that more – including invoices for police details from neighboring cities and towns – would be forthcoming. The complaint alleged that the charges violate the First Amendment and constitute an unlawful tax on speech and assembly.
“The right to join with neighbors in protest is core to the First Amendment and critical to a healthy and vibrant democracy,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “At a time when the federal government is inciting division and seeking to chill free speech, the voices of rally organizers and participants should be encouraged and applauded – not taxed. We are pleased that the City of Cambridge is standing up for peaceful assembly in public parks.”
“The City of Cambridge is deeply committed to supporting the public’s right to freely express their views and peacefully assemble in our city parks,” said Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. “This agreement, which is the direct result of our close collaboration with the ACLU of Massachusetts over the past few months, ensures that the public safety costs associated with such events do not become a burden for the organizers. I want to thank the ACLU of Massachusetts for working with the city to come to a mutually agreeable resolution.”
“We are grateful for the work of both the ACLU of Massachusetts and the City of Cambridge, and we are heartened to know that free speech and assembly continue to be free in Cambridge,” said Michelle Cunha, Assistant Director of Massachusetts Peace Action. “We appreciate that the City of Cambridge took the time to discuss the issues, improve their policy, and ultimately cancel the charges.”
“We are delighted that the City of Cambridge has adopted a policy that will set precedents and guarantee everyone, regardless of means, the right to assemble – and we thank the ACLU of Massachusetts for its work,” said Zayda Ortiz of the January Coalition. “When freedom of speech comes with a price tag, it especially burdens marginalized groups, who might have fewer financial resources for charges. We hope that other municipalities across the Commonwealth can mirror this policy and safeguard our constitution. When the voices of the unheard are liberated and amplified, our society grows stronger.”
“We are pleased that this matter has been resolved,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We applaud Massachusetts Peace Action for standing up and fighting for what is right and the City of Cambridge for responding to public input and protecting free speech and assembly. This is how democracy is supposed to work.”
Learn about the case, Massachusetts Peace Action v. City of Cambridge.
To read the City of Cambridge’s new policy, click here.