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When Did Dancing In The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Become A Crime?


A group of visitors to the Jefferson Memorial was arrested last Saturday for dancing inside the memorial. Images pulled from Adam vs. the Man video.

The words of Thomas Jefferson, some written more than 200 years ago, have shaped American ideals. Today, many of these impressive, stirring words adorn the interior walls of his memorial. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial stands as a symbol of liberty and endures as a site for reflection and inspiration for all citizens of the United States and the world.

Those words are on the homepage of the National Park Service's website for the Jefferson Memorial. But does the memorial stand "as a symbol of liberty and endure as a site for reflection and inspiration for all citizens of the United States and the world"? Some might wonder following an incident this past Saturday at the memorial in which U.S. Park Police brusquely -- some might say excessively, what with the use of chokeholds and knees pinning heads to the memorial's floor -- arrested a number of visitors in the memorial for ... quietly dancing.

Thomas Jefferson, our country's third president, valued liberty highly, as a review of his quotations attests:

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."

"The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave."

"..I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

That last entry comes from an inscription within the memorial, an irony that can't be escaped in the wake of the arrests.

When did dancing become a sign of protest, and when was it outlawed in the memorial? How do you measure reasonable force vs. excessive force when police are arresting those behind passive acts of civil disobedience? Would those questions, which might come to mind after watching the following video, have been moot if the Park Police had simply ignored the dancers?

Now, the dancing was not spontaneous, and likely had its roots in a similar incident in 2008 when Mary Oberwetter was arrested in the memorial for dancing in celebration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday.

Ms. Oberwetter's lawsuit against the National Park Service, for a violation of her First Amendment rights, was initially dismissed by a federal judge and her appeal of that also failed, on this past May 17. In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Jefferson Memorial should have a “solemn atmosphere" and that silently dancing was an inappropriate form of expression there.

Furthermore, the appellate judges agreed with the lower court that the interior of the open-air memorial is "not a public forum," and so any demonstrators must first obtain a permit. Demonstrations that require permits in the Park Service's National Capital region are defined as "picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct which involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers. [The] term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists which does not have an intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers."

Against those regulations, the appellate court wrote:

Although silent, Oberwetter’s dancing was a conspicuous expressive act with a propensity to draw onlookers. True, it occurred close to midnight on a weekend, making it less likely that a crowd would gather. But the question is not whether her dancing was likely to attract attention at that particular time. As with the other prohibited activities of “picketing, speechmaking, marching, [and] holding vigils or religious services,” expressive dancing might not draw an audience when nobody is around. But the conduct is nonetheless prohibited because it stands out as a type of performance, creating its own center of attention and distracting from the atmosphere of solemn commemoration that the Regulations are designed to preserve.


Furthermore, the judges added:

National memorials are places of public commemoration, not freewheeling forums for open expression, and thus the government may reserve them for purposes that preclude expressive activity. Oberwetter points out that the Jefferson Memorial is located within the National Park system, and that public parks are quintessential examples of traditional public forums.  Even so, we have recognized that our country’s many national parks are too vast and variegated to be painted with a single brush for purposes of forum analysis. “Presumably, many national parks include areas—even large areas, such as a vast wilderness preserve—which never have been dedicated to free expression and public assembly, would be clearly incompatible with such use, and would therefore be classified as nonpublic forums.”.... In creating and maintaining the Jefferson Memorial in particular, the government has dedicated a space with a solemn commemorative purpose that is incompatible with the full range of free expression that is permitted in public forums.


What would Thomas Jefferson think?

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Dancing thre may be illegal, but the cops have discretion and it is obvious from the half hearted "dancing" that it would have been over in minutes. Even if arrests were necessary the police were too physical in this situation. Judo throws?

Some places are more appropriate for celebrations.  A few years ago I participated in a wedding on the west lawn of the Jefferson Memorial, a nice spot with a view of the memorial building and the Tidal Basin.  The National Park Service issues permits for that site.

Jefferson? A Virginia gentleman with an eye for the ladies? Against dancing? Please.
"A Puritan lives in constant fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time."

As long as no one was blocking an exit and they have their clothes on, let them dance away! This is, of course, from someone, who, along with my fellow group exuberant group of high school Girl Scouts, got yelled at for running up the steps of the Supreme Court building about 8 p.m. after the building was closed over a quarter century ago. It still hurts, even now.

I suppose I ought to go turn myself in, since I've danced (to the music) on the Arch grounds, and to fiddle music on Ozark Riverways. I didn't have a permit either time.

They weren't at Arlington, dancing on JFK's grave or before the Tomb of the Unknowns, or inside the National Cathedral. Those could and would reasonably be considered inappropriate behavior, IMO, but at the memorial for Uncle TJ? Let the party begin!

In any event, NPS sort of pulled a public relations rock here, IMHO. How much is all this bad PR costing in terms of public support? Better to let a few crazies wear themselves out for a few minutes. After all, who really owns the Mall? On a scale of the 1960s to 2011, this just doesn't even register.

These individuals came only to cause trouble and draw attention to themselves. The fact that the leader has a website only shows that. If I was a visitor to the Memorial I would not want this activity of dancing and kissing going on before me. The individuals were warned and they just wanted to provoke an incident. That is what is destroying this country to much tolerance for absolutes and this just shows that.

I'm in stunned silence! Why have we become a police state?

I have no opinion about the legitimacy of the law, but I feel that as they were warned and continued then they deserve to be arrested. The resisting of arrest ruined any point they were making. If they would have quietly allowed themselves to be arrested then it would have gone a lot farther for me that they were trying to make a point. As it is they all came off as trouble starters and not protesters. I feel they earned every thing they got once they started arguing and and physically resisting.

Allow me to put some perspective on this:

If you protest the arrest of someone caught shoplifting (a victimless crime!) by shoplifting - guess what's gonna happen?

If you want to demostrate on public lands, you'se gonna need a permit.

As McCoy said: "How can you get a permit to do a dam illegal thing?"

As god is my witness, I loathe attention-whores more than Illinois Nazis.

How about some background info on Adam vs The Man?  This sounds a lot like the so-called free speech movement of the 60's.  What are they protesting?  What's their reason for this?

One line of the Oberwetter decision says a lot: "In creating and maintaining the Jefferson Memorial in particular, the
government has dedicated a space with a solemn commemorative purpose
that is incompatible with the full range of free expression that is
permitted in public forums."

This is from the Adam vs The Man website: "Tonight on ADAM VS THE MAN with Adam Kokesh: Welcome to – THE – ADAM VS
THE MAN – SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER special! Congratulations to all of our
viewers completing a term of forced government indoctrination. Adam is
here to help you unlearn what you have learned and start learning about
what really matters. NEVER let your schooling – get in the way of your
education. Stefan Molyneux
joins Adam to explain how “children are people, too,” Students for
Liberty is in studio for a jobs forecast (it’s not going to be raining
jobs) – we’ll play “IS IT A SCHOOL, OR IS IT A PRISON” and we’ve got
Brett Veinotte of the “School Sucks” Podcast! And dancing! And singing! School’s out, but class is in!"

Sounds to me like some kind of immature attention getting effort by someone who has some kind of bone to pick with someone.  There is obviously some background information that is missing from the article here and in the video.

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