City settles suit, eases ban on rush-hour protests during convention

The City of Philadelphia won't ban rush-hour protests during the Democratic National Convention after all.

And officials are granting a permit for a protest march down South Broad Street on the convention's opening day, all as part of settling a lawsuit filed last week by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cheri Honkala, the longtime activist who heads a group called the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, had sought a permit to march from City Hall to the Wells Fargo Center beginning at 3 p.m. July 25, the convention's opening day.

The city at first denied the request, saying protests would be banned during rush hour - a ban the ACLU argued posed an overwhelming limit on First Amendment rights.

"We had a sense that even if we didn't permit during rush hour, there would be people who demonstrated in Center City anyway, so better to encourage them to get a permit," Mayor Kenney's chief spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said Thursday. "That way, we can still better manage demonstrations that are permitted, and minimize disruptions to surrounding businesses and residents if we know they're coming."

Honkala and the ACLU declined to comment ahead of a planned news briefing on the settlement at noon Friday.

Hitt said fighting a lawsuit 25 days before the convention did not sound appealing to the city.

"When we knew all these resources would have to be dedicated to a lawsuit for people who would otherwise be focused on the DNC, that kind of just sealed the deal," Hitt said.

She said lawyers for the city and the ACLU came to agreement Thursday.

She said Honkala agreed to move her march's start from 3 p.m. to 2. The permit is for a march from 2 to 6, starting on the south apron of City Hall and continuing to the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democrats will hold their convention through July 28.

City officials agreed to grant the permit and said they would consider other permit requests for protests during rush hour. Hitt said there were no plans to close Broad or surrounding Center City streets.

"As with all streets, there may be some rolling closures with dignitary movements or protests, but we don't expect any long-term closures," she said.

The ACLU argued that the city's announced ban on protests between 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. took up most of the day, and that plans to relegate protesters to FDR Park in South Philadelphia would limit their visibility.

Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the state ACLU, said last week, "Let's be frank - most people are not going to be hanging out around FDR Park to watch the protests."

The settling of the suit would amount to a second win for civil-liberties lawyers as both parties' conventions near. In Cleveland, after the Ohio ACLU sued over protest restrictions that city had planned for the July 18 to 21 Republican convention - such as a designated free-speech zone far from the convention site and rush-hour bans - a federal judge ordered the rules revised.

Hitt said Philadelphia had been more accommodating than that - granting protest permits for locations in Center City and using FDR Park, near the Wells Fargo Center, as a designated large protest area.

The city has received at least 23 requests for demonstration permits. Honkala's was one of at least 10 so far approved.

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso