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Free speech to be front and center at Gettysburg battle anniversary

Written by Dustin B. Levy/Hanover Evening Sun | Jun 26, 2017 7:40 AM
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FILE PHOTO: Marchers protest the removal of a Confederate flag in downtown Gettysburg in 2015. (Photo: File, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- The 154th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is likely to be marked with large demonstrations in favor of free speech. Why? Because some groups are unhappy with what other groups have to say. 

The Gettysburg National Military Park has issued three special use permits for first amendment activities on July 1, according to a Thursday news release.

"As custodians of land owned by the American people, the National Park Service has a responsibility to make that land available for exercising those rights," Bill Justice, acting park superintendent, said in the release.

"As with any First Amendment activities, Gettysburg National Military Park's objectives are to provide for public safety, minimize impacts on historic resources of this park, and afford visitors an enjoyable experience."

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry and Real 3% Risen will gather north of Meade's Headquarters near 160 Taneytown Road from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The park expects 250 to 500 participants with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and 500 to 1,500 participants with Real 3% Risen, a Facebook group dedicated to protecting American freedoms.

Ski Bischof, of Allentown, helped organize the events with a Facebook event called "Support America and Her History." Together, they are joining up with the other groups to form a united front against a group that might be there to protest against President Trump and/or the Confederate flag, according to the Facebook event page.

A third group, Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, consisting of about 20 people, is planning to march in formation from the North Carolina Memorial to the Virginia Memorial, with small ceremonies along the way, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The events came about, in part, because of unsubstantiated reports of an activist group coming to the battlefield on July 1. The allegations of this group's intended activities have spread on social media the past couple weeks, infuriating many. 

Facebook event pages, like Bischof's, began to pop up as counter rallies. 

"You don't have to be a Trump Supporter to be an American Patriot!," the Support America and Her History Rally page reads. "Well enough is enough. Show up, Stand Up, in your support for AMERICA!"

Other event titles from Facebook users included "Free Speech Rally" and "STOP THE ANTI AMERICAN PROTEST IN GETTYSBURG."

"If they want to start a war, you don't go to Gettysburg, and you do not do it at the national battlefield," Bischof said.

The National Parks Service respects the right of the public to demonstrate and voice their views with no distinctions, Katie Lawhon, park spokeswoman, said in an email. However, the park has plans in place if people or groups act unlawfully.

Visitor safety is the park's "top priority," Lawhon said in a statement. The park is collaborating with federal, state and local law enforcement, including United States Park Police and staff from other national parks, "to detect and deter threats to public safety."

There are no violent intentions from the scheduled rally participants, and they are taking measures to prevent anything from happening, Bischof said.

"This (event) is for real patriots that want to put their point across," he said. "We don't want fights."

How the park is celebrating the battle anniversary, July 1-3

  • Daily ranger-guided activities, including an interactive map building program and an examination of Abraham Lincoln and the National Cemetery
  • Family activities including 19th century parlor games and visits with historical guests
  • Family history hikes, battle walks and campfires

This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

Published in Adams County, News

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