A photo of the “Temple Burn” engaged in by Catharsis on the Mall in 2015. Source: catharsisonthemall.com.

Last month, the federal district court in Washington, D.C. denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service’s enforcement of its bonfire restrictions on the National Mall.  A group sought to host a demonstration on the Mall that would have attracted more than 4,000 participants and involved the burning of a wooden “Temple” as a symbol of support for additional protections and services for veterans.  The National Park Service denied the group’s request for a permit based on newly-enacted rules regarding bonfires on the Mall, which limited the size of bonfires for safety purposes.  Prior regulations allowed bonfires with a National Park Service permit. 

The National Mall is a traditional public forum.  On the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court found that the Park Service’s bonfire size restrictions were content neutral and narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest in safety, and thus the plaintiff group was unlikely to succeed on the merits.  The plaintiff group alleged that the Park Service had enacted its 2016 regulations in retaliation for the group’s prior activities in 2015 (which also included burning a makeshift wooden structure, with a National Park Service permit), but the court found that the Park Service had been contemplating updates to its regulations even before the group’s 2015 demonstration.

Catharsis on the Mall LLC v. Jewell, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2016 WL 6678343 (D.D.C. Nov. 11, 2016).