The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Visitors Wearing "Abolish ICE" T-Shirts Barred from Statue of Liberty

Unconstitutional viewpoint-discrimination, and the Park Service has acknowledged it was a mistake.


Gothamist (Jake Offenhartz) reports:

A pair of New Yorkers hoping to pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty last month say they were ordered by federal employees to change out of their "Abolish ICE" t-shirts before approaching the monument. When the couple refused, security guards escorted them out of line for their pre-paid tour—a decision that the National Park Service now admits was a "misstep," and one that qualifies as illegal viewpoint discrimination, according to the NYCLU [New York Civil Liberties Union]….

According to [one of the visitors], the … security guards cited "what happened on July 4th" as a justification for the ejection—presumably referring to Therese Patricia Okoumou, who was arrested after she scaled the Statue of Liberty and refused to leave until "all the children have been released." Earlier in the day, Okoumou had participated in a demonstration in which a dozen protesters unfurled an "Abolish ICE" banner on the statue's observation deck….

The Gothamist reports that the National Park Service "acknowledged that blocking access to the Statue of Liberty over a political t-shirt is a form of viewpoint discrimination, according to the NYCLU," and that the Service "told Gothamist that 'this never should've happened,' adding that 'it's pretty clear from our standpoint that we don't restrict free speech.' … 'It was certainly a misstep on our part and we're happy that the couple has elected to take up our invitation to come back' …."