parade permits

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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and assembly. However, large group assemblies such as a parade, may require a permit from the governing municipality. Parade permits could be granted after an application is filed to relevant authorities (such as the municipality) to host a parade. 

For example, the City of Syracuse, NY Parade and Public Assembly Request Form webpage states “No persons, society or organization of any name or nature shall assemble, congregate, parade or march in or through any of the streets of the city without first securing a permit thereof in accordance with city ordinances.” 

Ordinances governing the distribution of parade permits have been discussed in free speech jurisprudence.

In Freedman v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that a scheme conditioning expression on a licensing body’s prior approval of content might threaten constitutionally protected speech. In response, the Court held that a film licensing process must contain certain procedural safeguards to avoid constituting an invalid prior restraint: 

  • Any restraint prior to judicial review can be imposed only for a specified brief period during which the status quo must be maintained; 
  • Expeditious judicial review of that decision must be available; and 
  • The censor must bear the burden of going to court to suppress the speech and must bear the burden of proof once in court. 

The Court reiterated these points in FW/PBS v. City of Dallas.

In Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, the Court determined that if a law subjects the right of free expression in publicly owned places to the prior restraint of a license, without including narrow, objective, and definite standards to guide the licensing authority, the law would be unconstitutional. 

In Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, the Court ruled that authorities cannot charge more for permits to parades that might cause a disturbance; licensing must be content-neutral; licensing fees must be provided in statute and not assessed by choice of the administrator.

The parade permit ordinance of a municipality is to be reviewed as a reasonable regulation of the “time, place and manner in relation to the other proper uses of the streets,” according to the Court in Cox v. New Hampshire. In Thomas v. Chicago Park District, the Court has reiterated this standard. Because even content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions can harm free expression, the Court requires that a time, place, and manner regulation contain adequate standards to guide the official’s decision and render it to effective judicial review.

See also: unlawful assembly; forums; First Amendment

[Last updated in November of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]