MADISON, Wis. - While protests at the state Capitol will now require a permit under new rules announced by the Department of Administration this week, one group said that it won't be getting one.
The group of singing protesters known as the Solidarity Singers gathers nearly every day at around the noon hour to host sing-alongs in the building. On Friday, the sing-along was outside, which is what is typically done on Fridays.
DOA officials said that groups as small as four people holding demonstrations in state buildings, including the Capitol, must give notice 72 hours before the event. As part of the rules, officials could even charge groups for costs of cleanup or security.
But despite the announcement of the rules on Thursday, Chris Reeder, one of the organizers of the Solidarity Singers, said that he believes the rule violates their free speech rights.
"We won't be applying for a permit. We feel very strongly about that. That's one of the central tenets. We do not believe that free speech requires a permit," he said.
He said that he feels the policy, which DOA officials have described as a clarification, thwarts their efforts.
"It does definitely seem like they are trying to crack down on protests and crack down on dissent at the Capitol. We feel pretty strongly we need to make our voices heard at the Capitol," Reeder said.
DOA officials said that they have been in contact with the group to discuss the need for a permit and that the policy will ensure equal access for all citizens to state facilities.
John Schaeffer, who comes to oppose the daily sing-alongs, said that he agrees with the DOA's decision.
"I think the Capitol really is all of our places. (It doesn't) just belong to the pro-union, anti-Walker people. It belongs to everybody. Everybody should have free access to it. And they really do dominate the center of the Capitol every noon hour, every day, and that's wrong," he said.
The Singers said that they won't file legal action, but officials with the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that they are considering legal action.
University of Wisconsin law professor Donald Downs said that permits can be allowed under state Supreme Court precedent, but the group size and even costs, could be gray areas constitutionally, WISC-TV reported.
The rules are slated to go into effect on Dec. 16.
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