City reverses policy, will allow free speech in public park

April 29, 2023
Vanesa Belen

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A Pennsylvania county is reversing its ban on free speech in a public park after being ordered to take that action by a federal judge.

The case involved Kevin Gaughen and Dave Kocur who were kicked out of a Doughin County park and decided to sue for the government's infringement of their 1st Amendment rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Express worked on the case, and lawyer Jeff Zeman said, "Kevin and Dave knew their First Amendment rights and tried to stand up for them. But Dauphin County insisted on ignoring the commands of the Constitution. That’s why FIRE got involved."

The fight developed in Fort Hunter Park, where the county's parks director imposed a ban on political speech.

The county official banned the two from collecting petition signatures in the park. But the court order to the county to reverse course "acknowledges that Dauphin County’s ban on political speech violated the First Amendment," FIRE reported.

The county will also pay $91,000 to settle the case.

"This victory isn’t just a victory for Dave and me, it’s a victory for everyone in Dauphin County," said Gaughen.

Gaughen, a board member of the Keystone Party of Pennsylvania, joined Kocur to go to the park to try to collect signatures from voters to be on the ballot.

"On June 11, 2022, the pair stood in an open area of Fort Hunter Park, part of the Dauphin County public park system, asking passersby to sign nomination petitions. They engaged with park visitors about their new political party for about an hour before park security guards approached them and ordered them to stop. The duo correctly pointed out they had the right to engage in political speech in a public park. Then Parks Director Anthea Stebbins arrived and ordered Gaughen and Kocur to stop what they were doing, telling them the county bars all political activity inside Fort Hunter Park," FIRE explained.

The lawsuit, which was filed after the county initially rejected a request to correct its policies, resulted in the end of the "unconstitutional ban on speech in a public park" and vindication for the plaintiffs.

"It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit for Dauphin County to open their parks to political activity," said FIRE attorney Conor Fitzpatrick. “Thanks to Kevin and Dave, Pennsylvanians can now talk politics in Fort Hunter Park without fear of government censorship."

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