Protesters Rip Lafayette Square Limits

by Vincent McGraw
The Washington Times
August 22, 1985

Expressing political and religious beliefs in Lafayette Park is a long-standing tradition that the National Park Service conspires to eliminate. protesters said yesterday.

Ellen Thomas, whose Peace International organization has maintained a four-year anti-nuclear vigil in the park. said new Park Service regulations restricting the number and size of protest placards "prohibits freedom of speech while making us the bad guys."

The regulations, announced this week. are intended to control the manner -- not the content -- of protests by demonstrators erecting billboard-style signs along the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the park creating what tourists consider an eyesore. said Sandra Alley, associate regional director of public affairs for the Park Service.

"The proliferation of signs in the park, concerns for safety and complaints are what prompted the regulations. We're trying to seek a balance with those who wish to express their views and those who simply want to enjoy the park. We're not trying to curb anyone's First Amendment rights," said Miss Alley.

Under the new regulations, scheduled to take effect in late November after a 60-day period of public comment, signs placed or set down in the park must be no larger than four feet in either dimension and no thicker than one quarter-inch. They may not be elevated more than six feet from the ground at their highest point and may not be combined with other signs to form larger ones.

Hand-carried signs would be exempted from the new rules, and protest groups would be allowed to set up temporary speakers' platforms for rallies, but huts, chairs, desks, makeshift toilets and other personal items would be prohibited,Miss Alley said.

Violators, she said, could be charged with a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $500 or six months in jail.

Mrs. Thomas contends that demonstrators are scapegoats "for the Government to rid the park of the homeless."

"There are homeless people here who have no other place to go. and we are being blamed for their behavior. I suppose they're doing this because we're so close to President Reagan's window, and he doesn't like what we sees:' she said, pointing toward a 16 foot sign owned by her organization.

Said Miss Alley: "While we can sympathize with the homeless. our mission is to preserve the parks' aesthetic and historical value."

William Hale whose 12 oot sign dvocates establishing a "community library to safeguard our views" intends to put his sign on wheels and "not be fooled by this conspiracy."

"Once we get everything on wheels and start moving it [the sign] back and forth, I guess they'll regulate that too. My sign stays:' he declared.

Tourists in the area said new regulations were overdue. One suggested "we do away with all this freedom of speech stuff and trash these anti-American, anti-president signs.

Scott Lanier of Orlando, Fla. agrees some restrictions are needed. "I guess even they [park demonstrators] have their rights he said.

"All of these signs should be removed. After all, they restrict the size of billboards and other things. Why should these be any different!" he said.

Los Angeles resident Patrice Cornwall, about to tour the White House. engaged in debate with Concepcion Picciotto, whose centerpiece sign -- one of 20 placards she oversees -- reads "Welcome to Lafayette Concentration Camp".

"I get very emotional when I see all these signs and not one of them gives the opposite viewpoint. Where are the people who believe in a strong nation militarily! All these signs speaking against our country; it's time they do something about it: said; Mrs. Cornwall, as her son pushed her away to avoid further argument with Miss Picciotto.