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Rallies in Washington Parks Must Permit Free Discussion, Ickes Rules

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As a guarantee of tolerance and the presentation of both sides of all public questions, Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes today announced new rules for open meetings held in the national capital’s parks. Hereafter, whenever a mass meeting is held the speaker must allow open debate. The Secretary’s action was seen as a blow to Fascist and anti-Semitic organizations which could secure permits to hold meetings and then monopolize the meetings and prevent rebuttal.

Two weeks ago Joseph E. McWilliams, head of the Christian Mobilizers, an anti-Semitic organization closely allied with the German-American Bund and Coughlinites, was granted a permit to hold three meetings in Franklin Park. McWilliams failed to show up but Ickes prepared his new plan for whatever other groups ask for use of the parks. Hereafter, all applications for permits will be posted for public inspection. Persons wishing to answer scheduled speakers will have a right to do so immediately before or after the opposition has presented its side.

In announcing the ruling, Secretary Ickes said: “Under the new ruling speakers will either have to hold their meetings on private property or submit to the democratic discipline of open debate. Whatever we may think of the inconsistency or hypocrisy of those who claim the right to use the public parks of our democracy to preach the virtues of un-democratic forms of Government, I am convinced that the most effective way to expose the fallacies of such subversive philosophies is to pull them out of their hiding places and subject them to the antiseptic reaction of free and open public controversy.

“It is particularly important at the present time when prejudice runs high and tolerance is threatened with eclipse that public regulations be not permitted to pervert a fundamental safeguard of our democracy. We do not propose a regulation that savors of suppression in any form. Our system is strong enough to survive without any suppression.”

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