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Does County Policy Require Permits for Vigils?

Candlelight vigil for Washington-Lee student John Malvar(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Arlington County’s new special events policy, revised this summer to ensure bar crawl organizers pay for the support costs of their events, has raised eyebrows for appearing to require permits and cost reimbursements for vigils and protests.

The Special Events Policy, approved by the Arlington County Board on July 19, states “the county will charge special-event organizers for ‘personnel and services on a 100 percent cost-recovery basis unless prohibited by law.’ Permits must be obtained for ALL special events and demonstrations.”

The county defines demonstrations, for the purpose of the policy, as “any picketing, speech making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and other like forms of conduct, in Public Spaces, which involves the communication or expression of views or grievances, is engaged in by one or more persons, and has the effect, intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.”

However, county spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the administrative regulation is still being written, and the county will not ask those holding “First Amendment” activities like protests, rallies or vigils to recoup the county for its costs.

“The Policy is designed to address the impacts caused when large crowds gather in public spaces for any purpose, including demonstrations and other expressive activities,” Curtius told ARLnow.com in an email. “The Policy does not prohibit such gatherings, and does not apply to every instance where citizens or groups gather to exercise rights protected by the First Amendment. It only applies when the crowd that gathers is large enough to interfere with the use of the public space by the rest of the public, and presents significant public safety risks and other costs that will otherwise have to be borne by the public.

“This has been a part of County policy for a number of years,” Curtius continued. “To date, based on the size of the groups involved, a permit has not been required for a demonstration or other similar activity.”

While not necessarily required, the county is expected to encourage organizer of so-called First Amendment activities to apply for permits so police and county staff can make appropriate preparations. County officials said that any ambiguity in the policy will be clarified through administrative regulations.

Hat tip to Suzanne Sundberg. File photo

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