Occupy Wall Street: Tents and sleeping bags free speech?

ACLU sues Hennepin County over Occupy Minn. rules


The Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Hennepin County officials Monday on behalf of anti-Wall Street protesters, claiming rules including a ban on tents and electricity are violating the demonstrators' rights to free speech.

Protesters have been at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza since Oct. 7 as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The protesters have never been allowed to have structures like tents. But last week, new rules went into effect saying they could no longer tape signs on county property or sleep on the grounds.

The lawsuit asks that rules restricting the use of chalk, electricity and tents be declared unconstitutional. The plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction to keep the rules from being enforced, and they want the county to provide electricity to the protesters.

Plaintiffs' attorney Justin Perl said the rules are troubling because they were created specifically for the protest. "They were not based on any previous ordinances," Perl said. "The Constitution does not allow the government to just make up new rules as you go along in order to target a particular group."

Are Tent Cities Free Speech? The First Amendment does not protect behavior that threatens health and safety.


One lesson of Occupy Wall Street is that if local authorities permit campouts, people will camp out. This permissive approach created a false impression of the strength of the movement. The crowds dispersed once the authorities applied typical time, place and manner rules.

Occupy Wall Street is suing to bring their tents and sleeping bags back to the park, but in Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence (1984), the Supreme Court held that the National Park Service could enforce its rules against sleeping in tents at Washington's Lafayette park and National Mall, even for a symbolic protest about homelessness. The tents in Zuccotti Park were shelter, not symbolic speech. As First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told Reuters, it's a "real stretch to maintain that sleeping in a designated area itself is anything more than what it appears to be."

Comment: 1st article is Minneapolis related; 2nd is New York. But the free speech issue is the same

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