Free Speech Events

Free Speech Activity at Other Events


Free Speech Event

  • Solely expressive activity, such as march, rally, demonstration, or other activity
  • Does not include non-expressive or commercial activity such as commercial food or sales

Examples: protest march, religious procession, picket

Mixed Free Speech Event

  • Expressive activity, such as march, rally, demonstration, or other activity
  • Includes non-expressive or commercial activity such as commercial food or sales vendors
  • Non-expressive activity includes
    • recreation (e.g. games, arts and crafts activities, reunions, birthday parties, or participatory dances);
    • competition/contests (e.g. soap-box derbies or scavenger hunts);
    • spectator sports (e.g. boat races, regattas, hockey, or basketball);
    • athletic events (e.g. races or runs);
    • circuses/fairs/carnivals (e.g. booths, games, rides, or similar amusements);
    • food-related activities (e.g., barbecues, cook-offs, picnics, food distribution, food festivals);
    • sales/trade shows/business promotions (e.g. crafts shows, antique shows, merchandise sales or exhibits, or product launches);
    • beach/park clean-ups; and
    • training activities (e.g. corporate sessions or team-building activities)

Free Speech Events

Permit Application Deadlines
Spontaneous free speech events that are occasioned by news or affairs coming into public knowledge, may submit their applications at any time before the scheduled event. In order to best coordinate services, as much notice as possible is desirable.
Free speech events that are not of a spontaneous nature are required to submit their applications by the regular deadline of 90 days prior to the event start date.

The application fee is waived for events designated as Free Speech Events. The application may be waived for Mixed Free Speech Events at the discretion of the Special Events Committee.
Administrative fees are waived for Free Speech Events. For Mixed Free Speech Events, administrative fees are charged for the portion of the event related to non-expressive activity.
See Special Event Permit Fees section of this handbook for more information.

The requirement to hold general liability insurance coverage may be waived for Free Speech and Mixed Free Speech Events at the discretion of the Special Events Committee. The specific activities, scope, and expected attendance will be evaluated when determining if insurance coverage is required. 

Free Speech Activity at Events

Special events that are open to the general public may attract individuals who wish to leaflet and/or gather signatures from event attendees. Circumstances can vary widely, but in general, such activity must be allowed on public property that is open to the general public. Examples of typical scenarios include:

People can walk around and hand out leaflets or gather signatures in a park without any permit. They must obtain a permit to set up a table, however.

If a special event permit holder has reserved exclusive use of any area (for example, a gated event with an admission charge or a bag check) or is having an event which is not open to the public (for example, a company picnic or a wedding reception), the permit holder may generally control who may come into the immediate area of the event. People can, however, usually leaflet or gather signatures in a public place nearby outside the special event area.

People can also stand or walk around leafleting or gathering signature at parades. At a parade, the public sidewalk viewing area is generally open to the public, including both those who want to view the parade and those who want to leaflet or gather signatures. People can generally leaflet or gather signatures on the public sidewalk so long as they do not interfere with those watching the parade.

The parade organizers generally control who participates in the parade itself.

Street Fair
At a street festival or fair, people can circulate with the other visitors leafleting or gathering signatures in the areas of the fair open to the public. However, if they want to set up a table or booth, they would be subject to all the same rules and fees as others who set up similar tables/booths at the event.

However, in all these situations, people cannot leaflet or gather signatures in such a way as to interfere with others' rights to enjoy the park, the parade, or the street fair, interfere with pedestrians or auto traffic, or violate other applicable laws. People also cannot interfere with permitted event such as performances, plays, concerts, or other programs held in parks or on public property.

Contact the Special Events Office if you have questions about free speech activity at your event.


US Department of Justice Community Relations Service

Planning for Safe Marches and Demonstrations

So... You're a Demonstration Marshal

Special Events

Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 5752, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94708, Seattle, WA, 98124-4708
Phone: (206) 684-8017
Fax: (206) 684-7025

The City of Seattle plays a strong role in helping event planners bring people together safely and successfully in both city-wide and neighborhood events.