Free speech zone controversy: 1 year later

by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The St. Augustine Tea Party is enjoying this year’s Independence Day with fewer restrictions. 

While holding the same sign that got him in trouble in the first place, David Heimbold headed back out to the historic fort on the Fourth of July.  A year ago, he considered the park rangers the enemy. 

"Total change of atmosphere. Instead of the adversarial atmosphere at the fort now it's one of acceptance," said Heimbold.  

Last year on the Fourth of July, Heimbold claimed his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fined $225 by a park ranger for not having a permit to demonstrate outside the designated free speech zone. The charges were later dropped and the free speech zones expanded.

"Thanks to your coverage of this story we obtained free speech here on the fort," said Lance Thate, chairman of the St. Augustine Tea Party. 

Chief ranger Kim Mayo said, despite the initial public outcry, she's happy with the outcome. 

"We re-evaluated it and looked at expanding that area after the tea party brought some items to our attention," said Mayo. "I think the outcome has been great and we would work with any group the same way we worked with the tea party and try to work with them and come to an understanding."  

For this year's Independence Day, tea party members wasted no time enjoying their constitutional right to freedom of speech complete with a permit to display a patriotic float, a tent with several signs and a donation jar. 

"It was really a blessing in disguise," said Heimbold. 

The expanded free speech zones at the fort doesn't only apply to the tea party members but anyone who wishes to demonstrate on park property. A permit is only required if the group is more than 25 people.