BOSTON – A coalition of anti-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Boston on Wednesday, claiming the demonstration permitting process for demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention (search) will infringe on protesters' First Amendment rights.
The Christian Defense Coalition, Operation Rescue Boston (search) and Operation Rescue West claim the process to obtain permits is overly restrictive.
Groups that want to demonstrate must submit their applications at least 14 days before the proposed event.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition (search), said protest groups often don't find out about convention events at which they wish to demonstrate until a day or two beforehand.
Mahoney says the city is trying to "sanitize" the convention by attempting to restrict protesters.
"Political conventions should be a time to celebrate free speech and the First Amendment, not crush free speech and the First Amendment," Mahoney said. "They are making people who are committed to free speech jump through hoops."
The convention, scheduled for July 26-29, is expected to draw thousands of demonstrators.
The city put in place a new three-step permitting process, which requires demonstrators to submit an application to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing, obtain permits from other appropriate city departments, then win final approval from the licensing office.
All applications must be submitted at least 14 days before the proposed event.
"What this permit process is saying is, if we find out about any event after July 11th, we will not be issued a permit," said Mahoney.
The lawsuit names the City of Boston and Mayor Thomas Menino as defendants. A spokesman for Menino did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Other groups have complained that proposed plans for demonstration zones are too far away from the FleetCenter convention site.
John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the current permitting process is cumbersome.
"Certainly, we agree that there still remain serious timing problems with the permitting process, and we've impressed that concern on the city," Reinstein said.
"If a group showed up here a week before the convention, they would be out of luck."
U.S. District Judge William Young has scheduled a hearing for Friday to hear arguments on the coalition's request for a preliminary injunction. If approved, it would order the city to remove the requirement that groups must submit their applications for permits at least 14 days before an event.