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Rules revised for activities in national cemeteries

New rules for special events in national cemeteries will go into effect next month. The National Park Service (NPS) announced in the Federal Register of Wednesday, June 11, 2014 that it has issued new final rules governing demonstrations and special events in the national cemeteries it operates. The new rules take effect July 11.

NPS proposed the new rule last August and asked for public comments. It received only three comments, which seemed to have been inspired by the same source as they partially repeated each other. NPS therefore decided to adopt the proposed rule unchanged.

NPS operates 14 national cemeteries, including Gettysburg National Cemetery in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Yorktown National Cemetery in Virginia. All lie within larger national parks. They contain the remains of combat veterans.

NPS determined that these places deserve special reverence and activities that may be appropriate in other parts of parks might not fit in these cemeteries. It wants the places to remain calm so visitors can reflect peacefully and think about the contributions of those who lie there. But NPS had to revise its guidelines to comply with a court ruling that said previous language may interfere with First Amendment rights (Boardley v. Department of the Interior).

So NPS is narrowing the definitions of demonstrations and special events. It now defines a demonstration as an activity “the conduct of which is reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.” The old rules defined them as activities which had the ``intent, effect, or likelihood'' of doing so. NPS wants to make rules as consistent as possible with activities in other areas of its parks. It says the new rules should not substantially affect the peace in cemeteries. NPS figures the new rules are easy to understand. Its policy is that even peaceful demonstrations can disrupt the purpose of the cemeteries.

If you have any questions, contact A.J. North, NPS Regulations Program, (202) 513-7742,

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