Dancing at Jefferson Memorial a No-No

Judge turns the beat around; upholds Jefferson Memorial dancing ban

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Alicia Hunt
    This is a shot by the Tidal Basin, with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. It was taken on 3/29/09.

    The next time the spirit moves you to dance at the Jefferson Memorial, just move along. 

    A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that could ultimately have provided all of us with the freedom to dance, dance, dance the night away at a time and memorial of our choosing.

    At issue was the arrest of one Mary B. Oberwetter of the District. According to a report in the Washington Post, Oberwetter and 17 other people were listening to music on headphones and performing a dance at the Jefferson Memorial at 11:55 p.m. on April 12, 2008, the eve of Jefferson’s birthday.
     
    U.S. Park Police Officer Kenneth Hilliard appeared and told the dancers to stop. When Oberwetter refused, she was arrested and charged with demonstrating without a permit and interfering with an agency function. The charges were eventually dropped.
     
    But Oberwetter filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the Park Service violated her rights to free expression. According to the Post, Oberwetter’s attorney Alan Gura wrote in court papers that Oberwetter and her friends were dancing to honor “the individualist spirit for which Jefferson is known.”
     
    The Justice Department argued the Memorial is meant to be a place where visitors can go to contemplate Jefferson and the Memorial itself without the distraction of public demonstrations and other activities.
     
    U.S. District Judge John D. Bates agreed. He ruled that the interior of the memorial is not a public forum. In part of the 26-page opinion quoted in the Post, he wrote, "The purpose of the memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson's legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history.” 
     
    The judge added that prohibiting demonstrations is a reasonable means of ensuring a tranquil and contemplative mood at the Memorial.