Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
During the past eleven years I have been in almost daily contact with employees of the Interior Department. So I have personal experience which bears on the issue I am raising today. Owing to time constraints I must limit my comments specifically to a final rule, published an February 6, 1992 in the Federal Resister, Vol. 57, No. 25 pg. 4574, a copy of which has been provided to you.
Since 1981 Concepcion Picciotto and I have maintained a 24-hour vigil in Lafayette Park. In 1984 we were joined by Ellen Thomas. Our purpose for being in Lafayette Park on a continuous basis is to communicate on issues of broad public concern. This communication assumes two forms. First, being in the Park exposed to heat and snow, day and night our presence symbolically communicates personal commitment to the beliefs we espouse. Second, we communicate through literature and books that we distribute. The Federal Resister makes specific references to our vigil. For example, "United States v. Picciotto, 875 F.2d 345.n refers to Concepcion, and I'm the guy with a cubic foot of literature. But it doesn't say anything about our activities which would justify the regulation.
I've submitted a number of international newspaper clippings to illustrate that the message of our vigils is being successfully communicated. And a page from the Berlitz Travel Guide picturing Concepcion over the caption, "It's the right of every American to set up a stand and make a point in Lafayette Park."
The DOI claims that H(d)demonstrators remain free to utilize Lafayette Park to ... hold vigils and otherwise communicate their views." Yet under this regulation we would be forced to choose between having literature, or enough insulation to stay alive.
The situation is simple, Lafayette Park is the premier public forum for free expression on the planet. But, for the sake of "public interest," NPS claims, it must limit demonstrators to three (3) cubic feet of property. The Park Service received one petition with well over 3,000 signatures and fifty-one letters concerning the proposed rule. Only three letters supported it.
With comment running over 3,048 opposed and only 3 in favor, how can the DOI reasonably believe that it has any legitimate public interest? At best the National Park Service is ignoring "public comment;" at worst it has run amok. The Federal Register notes that many people believe this rule is an attempt to "ENABLE POLICE TO OUST DEMONSTRATORS FROM LAFAYETTE PARK," that it is "A BURDENSOME AND UNNECESSARY RESTRICTION ON FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION," and "A REGULATORY ATTEMPT TO NEGATE CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED RIGHTS UNDER THE GUISE OF PROTECTING AESTHETICS."
This is the fourth regulation since 1981, all written by the same draftsman, Richard Robbins, to place onerous burdens on First Amendment exercise in Lafayette Park, Cumulatively these regulations invest the Park Police with broad power to abuse demonstrators in the Park.
It is ironic that this regulation comes on the heels of President Bush's recent call for a 90 day moratorium on new regulations. Some public comment pointed out that the regulation was unnecessary because current regulations already limit storage of property. Even more ironic is that Mr. Robbins, who officially supervised what he calls increased police enforcement efforts, actually cited those police activities to support this new regulation.
In fact, on February 2 and 3, 1991, under the existing storage of property regulations, Mr. Robbins and government agents seized our lawful signs and literature and incarcerated Concepcion and me, Notwithstanding Mr, Robbins' supervision of these arrests the charges were swiftly thrown out of court. But the damage was already done.
My testimony today, including my written supplements, has only allowed me to notify you of the very real possibility that the Interior Department is abusing the authority granted to it under the Administrative Procedure Act. I also have many hours of footage relating to police misconduct during the Persian Gulf War in addition to the videotape I submitted today.
Freedom of thought and expression are the very ideals which the Supreme Court has repeatedly identified as "One of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes."
If a government suppresses the liberty of just one person it has suppressed the liberty of all. I think the possible use of taxpayer monies to fund the regulatory suppression of freedom is an issue which merits this committee's serious consideration.
William Thomas - 202-462-0757