South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy is reviving the National Park Service’s limited enforcement of regulations during last year’s “Occupy” protest in McPherson Square to press the agency on its shutdown protocols.
In a letter to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, Friday Gowdy called on the agency to provide a legal justification for closing the World War II Memorial to veterans in light of he government shut down while still allowing an immigration rally on the National Mall.
“I am concerned about recent reports of the National Park Service’s (NPS) selective enforcement of policy and regulations in the name of the First Amendment,” Gowdy wrote. “Reminiscent of last year’s lack of enforcement of camping in McPherson Square, the NPS justified special accommodations for a rally on the National Mall attended by Democratic Members of Congress based on First Amendment interpretations.”
“However, World War II veterans faced government barriers when attempting to visit a memorial commemorating their service,” he wrote.
According to Gowdy, blocking off public lands is not a shutdown requirement, but “more troubling” to the South Carolinian is the fact that NPS has been acting as an “arbiter of what is constitutionally permissible speech rather than applying a content neutral policy and regulations equally and fairly to everyone”
Gowdy noted that he brought this incongruent treatment up during a hearing about the Occupy Movement titled “McPherson Square: Who Made the Decision to Allow Indefinite Camping in the Park?”
“I clearly expressed my concern regarding disparate enforcement by NPS in the name of the First Amendment,” he wrote. “This statement applies as much now as it did then: ‘At the bottom of it all is the issue of fair and equal application of the law because from this vantage point, it appears that there are at least two very different sets of rules.’”
Gowdy is the most recent of a stream of lawmakers who have written and signed on to letters to the NPS pressing for answers about the NPS closure of open-air public lands. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and House Natural Resources Committee are scheduled to hold a joint hearing on NPS shutdown activities.