NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, nobody in this town wants a repeat of the bloody Iranian protests and counterprotests that took place here last month. But in refusing to grant a group of Iranian students a permit for another rally that had been planned for today in Lafayette Park, the National Park Service has taken a ham-handed stance against dissent. Park Service officials note that they can't recall denying any political demonstration permits in the past, even during the 1960s, on the basis of "clear and present danger" to public safety; if that's so, we see no compelling reason for starting to do it with this case, involving a request from the Iranian Student Association in the United States, one of several factions opposing the Shah of Iran's regime.
Unless there's some bit of intelligence that hasn't been shared with the public, one may well wonder if this permit denial isn't just a way for federal authorities to avoid the kind of embarrassment they brought upon the entire city on the occasion of the Shah's visit last month when they were caught unprepared. As we noted in this space then, when any foreign visit ends with a flood of casualties it's obvious that the hosts mismanaged the affair. Had the Park Police and the Carter administration tapped the expertise of the city's police in these matters, last month's confrontation might have been dealt with much differently. Indeed, if the intelligence of the park police was so off-the-mark last time, why should we accept this latest prejudgement?
In any event, we have long believed that this nation's capital, a city that respects liberty as well as order, should accord demonstrators the fullest freedom consonant with public safety. Our residents, we would venture to say, are well aware of both the importance and dangers connected with mass expressions of dissent, as well as of the past precautions and advance plans laid down by thoughtful and informed authorities. These have been concessions that the capital has regularly made to preserve its proud reputation of hospitality that prevailed for the civil rights march of 1963, the creation of Resurrection City in 1968, the moratorium of 1969, the bitter protests over Cambodia and Kent State and the Hanafi-Jewish Defense League demonstration earlier this year.
None of this is to say that all would have been sweetness and light in Lafayette Square today if the Iranian students had been granted their permit; we do know better than that. But our Metropolitan Police Department - with its generally impressive record of all parties - has approved a permit for the students to march on the Iranian Embassy today, and presumably the officers will be prepared to provide this community with the sense of calm and security that residents have come to expect.