05.31.2013 0

Couple arrested for handing out ‘End the Fed’ fliers near Independence Hall

By Robert Romano

On May 18, activist Mark Passio and his wife, Barb Marinelli, were arrested and handcuffed for distributing “End the Fed” literature near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Penn. by federal park rangers. The shocking incident was caught on video.

According to Passio’s description of events, “I was walking with my wife Barb in Philadelphia from Market Street to Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets, and handed out a few fliers about how the Federal Reserve Bank is de-valuing our nation’s currency to people standing in the line at the Liberty Bell location — something I have done almost 20 times in the past. I briefly spoke to a couple of them who asked me for more information.”

But then they were stopped by park rangers: “We then proceeded to continue to walk to Chestnut Street when we were stopped by two Park Police who said that I could not hand out fliers without a permit (I had already finished handing them out actually; I had a few left in my hand, and was in the process of leaving the area). They began citing some obscure federal regulation that I had never heard of.”

After explaining his rights to the ranger to hand out literature protected by the First Amendment, Passio explained, “I then proceeded to attempt to walk away toward Fifth Street on Chestnut Street, when these Park Police told me that I was not free to walk away from them, even though I had long since finished handing anyone any fliers and had done absolutely nothing to harm anyone or violate anyone else’s rights.”

A passerby mother, apparently with her kids, berated the rangers for their tactics “What are you teaching the kids? I don’t understand this… Children are watching this, is this what you’re teaching?”

At the end of the video, Marinelli stated what she was cited with, “Apparently, I was [charged with] ‘interfering with agency function’ and ‘failure to obtain a permit.’”

Now, to the law, First Amendment jurisprudence does allow government rules to allot certain time and place restrictions for where public assemblies, leafleting and the like may take place.

Further, federal regulations require that public parks allot certain areas for use of public assembly, demonstrations, leafleting, etc.: “Demonstrations are allowed within park areas designated as available” by the park superintendent “on a map, which must be available in the office of the superintendent and by public notice under § 1.7 of this chapter, the locations designated as available for demonstrations and the sale or distribution of printed matter.”

Per the regulation, the park superintendent does indeed provide such a map, and sure enough, it turns out Passio and his wife were actually within one of the designated areas where assembly and distribution of materials was permitted according to Independence Hall’s 2013 compendium: “The following park areas are designated as areas for public assemblies [include the] first block of Independence Mall: bounded north by Market St., east by 5th St., and south by Chestnut St. and west by 6th St.”

Exactly where Passio writes he was walking.

Moreover, as seen on the video, the very spot where Passio and his wife were arrested is the north side of Chestnut Street, which is, guess what? Another designated area where public assembly is allowed: “The following sidewalks [are designated as areas for public assemblies]: North side of Chestnut St. from 6th St. east to 5th St.”

It gets even better. According to Passio’s account, he was stopped because he was leafleting without a permit. But the regulations, and the superintendent’s 2013 compendium clearly state that groups less than 25 do not need a permit: “Distribution of printed matter is allowed pursuant to the regulations listed above regarding public assemblies, provided that, for groups over 25, a permit to do so has been issued by the Superintendent…The distribution of printed materials involving 25 persons or fewer may be engaged in without a permit provided that the other conditions required for the issuance of a permit are met and providing the activity will not unreasonably interfere with other demonstrations or special events.”

So, that’s two strikes against the park rangers. They arrested two people for leafleting in an area that was designated for public assembly and leafleting. And then they wrongly claimed they needed a permit when they did not.

And strike three, afterward superintendent of the park, Cynthia MacLeod issued letters to Passio and Marinelli stating that all citations were dropped against the pair. Passio has since promised to file a lawsuit.

Assuming he was at the park with just a few friends distributing fliers — not more than 25 — it sounds like he might have a good case.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor for Americans for Limited Government.

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