Washington, DC - Arguing that the Bush Administration is illegally withholding documents on its plans to cut scenes of gay rights, pro-choice and anti-war demonstrations from an educational video shown at the Lincoln Memorial, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit in federal court today to force the National Park Service to release the documents.
The groups allege that the documents demonstrate that Park Service officials were planning to change the videotape to satisfy the objections of right-wing organizations, and the lawsuit follows PEER and PFAWF's unsuccessful attempts to obtain the documents under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In November 2003, under pressure from right-wing organizations, the Park Service announced that it would alter an eight-minute video containing photos and footage of demonstrations and other historic events that have taken place at the Lincoln Memorial. These far-right organizations reportedly complained that brief seconds of footage showing gay rights, pro-choice and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations implied that "Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion 'rights' as well as feminism." In response, the Park Service is reported to have promised to develop a "more balanced" version of the videotape that has been playing at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995.
Alerted to these plans by concerned Park Service employees, PEER and PFAWF requested correspondence and other documents on the subject from the Park Service under FOIA. On January 16, 2004, the Park Service released press reports and a copy of the then-current videotape, but denied the remainder of the groups' request, claiming that even correspondence from outside organizations and members of Congress were internal, pre-decisional records and thus exempt from public records requirements. PFAWF and PEER appealed that denial of documents to the U.S. Department of Interior, of which the Park Service is a component, on January 28, 2004. After nearly a year, Interior has not responded. The groups determined that filing a lawsuit was the only remaining course.
"One of the basic tenets of democracy is that decisions are made in an open and transparent manner. If the Bush Administration wants to rewrite history on the basis of ideology then it should stand up and say so," said PFAWF president Ralph G. Neas. "Stonewalling the public is not an option."
The Park Service has reportedly spent nearly $200,000 making two new versions of the video. The first version is a wholly new video that, according to other Park Service documents, "revise(s) and update(s) the Lincoln Memorial video [including] off-line and symphony picture editing, the acquisition and addition of commercial and public domain stock footage and specialized captioning." This June, a second version of the video was ordered. This version would make "three minor picture changes to the Lincoln's Living Legacy Video. This work includes purchasing new stock footage, edit [sic], mastering and captions for the video."
"We are simply trying to unearth the history of an attempt by the Bush Administration to rewrite history," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Park Service employees. "Our tax dollars are being spent so that images of feminists, war protestors and gays can no longer be glimpsed at what is supposed to be a shrine of democracy."
Throughout the controversy, the original videotape has been showing at the Lincoln Memorial, except for a brief shutdown for projector repair. The Park Service has not shown its proposed replacement videos to members of the public and has also resisted requests for copies to be released.