A proposed rally in Meadville on Memorial Day to protest business and other closures has been denied a permit for the use of Diamond Park.

In denying the application, the city made a counter offer to organizer Pat McHenry, who told the Tribune that he's mulling his next step for his We the People gathering — including a possible court injunction.

"I'm expecting close to 500 people," McHenry said Wednesday after he learned the permit application was denied.

On Tuesday, McHenry filed an application to use Meadville's Diamond Park from noon until 3 p.m. Monday for a rally with an expected crowd of 200. The rally is "to protest our government's closure of our churches, our businesses, the loss of our freedom of association, free choice and the arbitrary closure of our various veterans' organizations clubs which support all who have served this country," according to the application.

McHenry, who posted the information on Facebook, raised the anticipated crowd size from 200 to 500 within a day's time.

The application said the First Amendment gives all U.S. citizens an absolute right to religion, freedom of speech, peaceably assemble and petition the government to redress grievances.

In denying McHenry's application, City Manager Andy Walker cited several factors, but did offer McHenry use of Meadville's Bicentennial Park if a new application was filed and a public safety plan was provided that addressed public health orders in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Specifically, that public safety plan should include provisions to comply with relevant public health orders related to social distancing and limitations on large gatherings (maximum of 25 participants)," Walker wrote. "As organizer of the event you are reminded of your obligation to comply with relevant public health orders."

McHenry said he could make an application to use Bicentennial Park but couldn't comply with the safety plan provision based on the number of people he expects.

"The whole purpose of the rally is to protest Gov. Wolf's edict," McHenry said, adding, "I think it was meaningless," referring to the city's offer.

McHenry said he's working with an attorney about possibly filing an injunction in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas or he may try to find an alternate location, possibly on private land, although that, too, would violate the social-distancing mandates. 

In denying McHenry's request to use Diamond Park, Walker cited a potential conflict with the city's holiday event.

"The annual Memorial Day Observance, an event already permitted by my office with a specific plan to adhere to public health orders and guidance and without public attendance, will take place immediately prior to your event at 11 a.m.," Walker wrote. "I am concerned that the planned 200 attendees of your proposed event will arrive early and disrupt the solemn observance."

Also, the street and parking around the Diamond are under reconstruction and present a potential safety hazard, Walker said.

"Holding and promoting an event for 200 people creates an unsafe concentration of pedestrians and poses an unreasonable safety risk to our citizens and outside visitors," Walker wrote, adding the city recently had to defend an insurance liability claim from a pedestrian injury during the 2018 paving season.

Meadville also is operating under its own disaster emergency declaration, along with Crawford County and Pennsylvania, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennsylvania's current yellow phase prohibits gatherings of more than 25 people.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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