State lawmakers who oversee the South Carolina Statehouse grounds have called a hearing for Tuesday afternoon to get answers about why two hate groups were given permits to rally at the Statehouse on the same day. On July 18th, both the KKK and Black Educators for Justice, affiliated with the New Black Panther Party, had permits for Statehouse rallies. There were several fights and five people were arrested.
Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, one of the members of the State House Committee, says, “To have them schedule a rally at the Statehouse at the same time and the same square block, to me, is absolutely illogical. I don’t understand the rationale behind that.”
Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Lexington, another member of the committee, says, “That could have been a lot worse than it was.”
The General Services Division, which is part of the state Department of Administration, is in charge of Statehouse grounds. Spokesman Brian Gaines says the two groups were scheduled on opposite sides of the Statehouse.
In a written statement, he says, “The State House grounds are a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has concluded that in a traditional public forum, such as the State House grounds, the rights of the state to limit expressive activity are sharply circumscribed. Limitations on the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly in a public forum must be content neutral and must provide ample channels for those exercising their First Amendment rights.
“The Division of General Services does not issue permits to individuals and/or groups for use of the State House grounds to exercise First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, but it frequently receives reservation requests for use of the grounds. However, it must be noted that an individual or group may gather on the State House grounds to exercise their First Amendment rights without submitting a reservation request or prior notification to the Division of General Services or the Bureau of Protective Services (BPS). The reservation process is beneficial because it provides notice to the state of the potential need for additional public safety and other services. Reservation requests are scheduled and spacing designated on a first-come, first-served basis. BPS addresses public safety concerns with the requestor. All persons and/or groups that access the State House grounds must abide by all applicable state laws. If any laws are broken, then such violations are addressed by BPS.
“The Division of General Services consulted with BPS regarding the July 18th events. The groups requesting to reserve space to express their First Amendment rights were scheduled at different locations on the State House grounds.”