The ACLU in Minnesota is pushing the city council in Excelsior, Minn., to reconsider its decision to deny a permit for a group that wanted to hold the Lake Minnetonka March for Our Lives, to show support for students who have marched for gun legislation in the wake of school shootings.
The city’s event scheduler said OK, according to organizers. So did the police and fire departments. And organizers hired a firm to manage a crowd estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 people on July 14.
But two weeks ago, the council said “no.”
“This event, while it has good intentions, it has the potential for completely overwhelming this city and all the police and fire and all the people who are going to be the front lines,” Excelsior Mayor Mark Gaylord said.
Organizers and the ACLU suspect there’s another reason: political differences.
ACLU Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson said the City Council granted permits for other groups at the same meeting at which it denied the permit for the Lake Minnetonka March for Our Lives. She said the only difference is those groups weren’t holding a march for political reasons.
Nelson said the city had asked organizers to forego a parade out of concern for downtown businesses.
“The First Amendment simply does not countenance the elevation of business interests over the right to free speech,” she said in a letter to Mayor Gaylord.
City Manager Kristi Luger tells the Lakeshore Weekly News that the city has a history of denying other events out of a concern about the impact of drawing too many people to a park near downtown.
Last year, the City Council passed an event ordinance “to decrease disruptions to the residents”, but Nelson signaled that the ACLU may attack that restriction, saying she doubts “it would withstanding constitutionally scrutiny in that it regulates constitutionally protected speech in a traditional public forum.”