"To Seek out that which was Lost..."

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or the Relays' endorsement of our Beliefs
... or as our endorsement of theirs.. the Truth will stand on its own Merit!


   PCU //\ Free Assembly Project                             Summer 1997

USFS 'Group Use' Rules:   LEGAL UPDATE, July '97

| Key events and issues arising since the rules were enacted in September '95 -- |
|  status of legal cases and impacts on Free Assembly in the National Forests.    |

*  Osceola Fed-Suit (FL), Feb.'96:

     The Government staked out roadblocks at a regional Rainbow gathering in Osceola NF, then filed a class-action civil suit against the Rainbow Family, naming 33 random participants as representative defendants; most were identified from police stops at the roadblocks.  The suit asked that the 'Group Use' regulations be ruled valid and Constitutional, and sought a nationwide injunction against unpermitted public gatherings in the National Forests.

                [#96-183-Civ-J-20, U.S. District Court, Jacksonville FL]

     In the ensuing months, an evangelist backed by a Christian legal foundation and several pro se respondents were dismissed, and two intervenors were denied standing on procedural grounds.  Since no "Rainbow" defendants were represented by attorneys, the Government did not succeed in certifying a class, but the 8/21 final ruling left 12 people under default judgment and enjoined from gathering... weak as legal precedent, but dirty business to contend with, and another Brick In The Wall.

*  Katuah Busts (NC), June '96:

     On the evening of 6/17 USFS officials entered a Katuah Solstice gathering in Pisgah NF (NC) and issued the first criminal citations for free assembly.  Five participants alleged to be "leaders" (all men) were singled out for prosecution under the new permit rules [36 CFR 261.10(j)].

     Police actions were invasive and showed a clear chilling intent:
Initially they ordered the gathering to disperse and threatened arrests, until media attention forced them to back down.  There were illegal searches and dozens of citations, including two for "Interfering" by warning gatherers of police presence; Free Speech defenses were prepared, but these charges were dropped.

     The 'Katuah-5' trial went for 3 days, focusing on enforcement protocols & flaws in the criminal case; it ended on Oct. 31 with 1 dismissal & 4 convictions, pending post-trial review on Constitutional issues at the District Court level.  Briefs are still awaited, & outcomes are uncertain:   Supporting testimony in the record was weak, and appeal to the 4th Circuit -- notoriously hostile to the 1st Amendment -- is doubtful.

*  Ozark "Divine Composting" Permit (MO), July '96:

     Anticipating the annual July Rainbow Gathering in Mark Twain NF, on 6/17 USFS officials enacted a permit with an unauthorized party -- "Divine Composting & Composing Church of the Sacred Rainbow Imagination" -- at Regional headquarters in Milwaukee (#5765-01).

     In response, the 7/3 Rainbow Council Consensus declared it "null and void", stating that the Holder was NOT "designated to sign... a special use authorization on behalf of..." the Gathering.  By this test defined in the rulemaking itself [251.54(h)(viii)], the permit was illegal.

     The Holder also felt betrayed by USFS conduct toward the Gathering, and gave the details on  videotape.  On 7/8 he presented a letter and 4-page affidavit to the Incident Commander, setting forth his 'Refusal for Cause' and grounds for nullifying the permit.  This may help to invalidate the permit requirement as-applied, with facts indicating bad faith & constructive fraud by the agency.

*  Ozark Roadblock Suit (MO), July '96:

     As the Ozark Gathering got underway, USFS Incident Command set up an interagency police roadblock less than a mile from the Welcome Home gate. Various requests to remove it were refused; stops and seizures targeting participants continued nearly throughout the event, resulting in 31 arrests and 499 citations.  The Forest Service alone spent $300,000 on roadblocks and law enforcement at the Gathering, and claimed expenses of $1 Million overall.

     On 7/23 a suit was filed against the Forest Service, State, and County Police, claiming that the roadblocks violated 4th Amendment rights and were emplaced selectively against Gathering participants [#96-3288-CV-S-3, Kansas City].  This challenge does not address the Group Use rules per se, but it raises critical issues on 1st Amendment policy.  The Agencies filed answers that these enforcement actions were legal and constitutional; disclosures show orders coming straight from USFS headquarters in DC.
Further discovery and briefs are still in progress.

*  Allegheny Busts (PA), Aug.'96:

     A joint Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Rainbow regional gathering started up in Allegheny NF on the last week of August; by Labor Day two more men were selected as perceived "leaders" and cited for gathering without a permit.
A few others tried to take the ticket and were bypassed.  Otherwise events went ahead peacefully:  USFS Officers patrolled the Forest Road and issued some petty traffic citations, but they did not interfere with the gathering itself.

     The "Allegheny 2" face the same charges as in Katuah, but the issues focus more squarely on the regulation itself, and its Constitutional grounds.  These defendants are also forthright in this stand:   When one was confronted to sign an Operating Plan, he wrote "Thomas Jefferson" on the bottom line.  The original 11/14 trial date in Erie, PA was set back "indefinitely", but will likely proceed in early Fall '97.

*  Ocala Roadblocks (FL), Feb. '97:

     USFS and County police put a heavy presence on a regional gathering site in Ocala N.F.  Under threat of force an unwitting local signed a permit, & roadblocks went up at both ends of the access road.  Over two weekends hundreds suffered illegal stops & searches, and about 90 people (confirmed per Sheriff's records) were arrested -- including the incidents at a peaceful roadblock vigil on 2/22, where officers violated their own police lines to grab 12 participants and drag them through the mud to jail.

     Gatherers organized to assemble testimony & evidence; the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild and many area attorneys were alerted to the crisis.
One petite young woman was held over a month on false charges of assaulting officers, but documentation presented to the Public Defender forced a special hearing:  Charges and bail were reduced, and she was released.
Most roadblock busts ran through the court mill without mounting 4th Amendment defenses, but the ACLU has requisitioned police/court records on all the arrests, 'Vigil Victims' plan a full fight, and a civil suit against the roadblocks is in preparation.

*  Green Mountain Permit Squeeze (VT), June '97:

     A few hundred people gathered for "Soulstice" in Green Mountain NF, confronting the protocol of the permit trap, sprung in a day:  Notification by Rangers Saturday morning, "organizers" targeted that afternoon, police enforcement by evening.  USFS & County officers had designated a liable "leader', but he was not to be found... reportedly he left the gathering for fear of prosecution, as did several others.

     The next day the officers set up a checkpoint down the road, conducting numerous stops, queries, and searches.  When it was obvious that Their Man had gotten away, they just chose a new victim:  Another man was stopped and issued a 261.10(j) citation.  When word got back to the site, a cluster of people went down to the checkpoint, all claiming to be leaders & requesting citations as well.  The LEO's would not reveal if other gatherers were targeted, declined to give tickets on request, then left the area.

     Defense work is underway; the first court appearance is 8/18, trial has not been set.

*  Ochoco Treaty Chiefs (OR), June '97

     The annual Rainbow Gathering came to Ochoco NF; as seed camp formed in mid-June, proactive law enforcement kicked into gear.   Forest Service disinformation spread fear among locals in nearby Prineville, and gatherers were shadowed in town & ran a gauntlet of police stakeouts on the road to the site.  At one point an interagency roadblock went up briefly, until they found out it was illegal in Oregon.

     Meanwhile, permit enforcers targeted 5 'Leaders' -- who refused to sign and landed Federal citations. With a continuing threat of force the FS finally got a permit signed by a fearful mother with a child on-site.   Then during clean-up charges were dropped... since the Feds had their permit, faced strong defendants, and got away with heavy Police presence and 'brinksmanship' at a 1st Amendment event.

Learn about the Right to Gather from the 1st Amendment archives at these InterNet sites:

[] www.welcomehome.org []  www.prop1.org []  www.free-assembly.org
(up by Fall '97!)

The issues are legal AND political -- The court cases are pivotal, but the forum of public opinion and policy will be decisive...
  Americans must be informed, Officials made accountable.

    Skills & energies are needed for public outreach, legal research & support,     fundraising and appeals.

      To share ideas and help in the campaign for Constitutional Rights on Public Lands,

      get in touch:

       PO Box 27217 * Washington, DC 20038        { 202-462-0757 }    <prop1@prop1.org >
       PO Box 6625 * Chicago, IL 60680            { 312-409-0018 }     <scottie@dol.com >