Score one for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Without a shot being fired, the group yesterday won its fight to preserve the right of Vista volunteers to take part in political or community demonstrations during off-duty hours.
Vista, the so-called "domestic peace corps," published a new set of guidelines yesterday that bars volunteers from demonstrating while on the job, but allows them to engage in such activities after hours.
"It's a great victory," said Arthur Spitzer of the local ACLU chapter, which had gone into court last month to block a temporary guideline that would have banned demonstrations around the clock.
The guideline published yesterday repeats Vista's original argument that since volunteers are supposed to make a 24-hour-a-day commitment to their jobs, it is difficult to distinguish between on and off-duty time. But it went on to acknowledge legitimate First Amendment concerns that would be raised by barring volunteers from participating in any demonstrations.
Under the new rule, certain restraints on off-duty demonstrations remain. Volunteers cannot take part in confrontational activities related to their sponsoring organization, and they cannot purport to represent Vista or any group of Vista volunteers.
To monitor compliance, and to advise volunteers which demonstrations are permissible and which aren't, Vista said it would set up a Demonstrations Unit in its office of the general counsel.
James Burnley, director of Vista, said yesterday that he did not consider the final guidelines to be a retreat of any kind, adding that he had "been happy to teach the ACLU a little bit about what the role of government is." He said that when the civil liberties group first heard of the guidelines, it had wanted to object to the entire ban, rather than just to its after-hours aspect. "They moved a lot further than I did," Burnley said.
Since the start of the Vista program in the 1964, volunteers have sometimes been involved in helping to teach poor people how to demonstrate against the government.