National parks can’t require permits for free speech, court rules

Religious missionaries and political activists will have more freedom to speak out in Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national parks under an appellate court ruling.

The decision, released Friday, struck down a longstanding National Park Service requirement that activists obtain permits before they demonstrate, distribute brochures or engage in other “expressive” activities in parks.

“These regulations penalize a substantial amount of speech that does not impinge on the government’s interests,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The decision by a three-judge appellate panel specifically involved Mt. Rushmore National Park in South Dakota, where Michael Boardley and others were initially blocked in 2007 from distributing material praising Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

But because Boardley persuaded the panel that the park service’s speech permit requirement violated the 1st Amendment, the decision opens doors wider at all 391 units of the national park system.