United States v. Thomas
CR 87-62, 87-64 9. The Court then considered the state's claim that its
interest in universal compulsory formal secondary education was
so great that it outweighed defendants' interests in the exercise
of their religious belief. The Court found the defendants had
convincingly demonstrated the sincerity of their religious
beliefs, the interrelationship of their beliefs with their mode
of conduct, and the hazards to the exercise of their religion
presented by enforcement of the statute. Defendants also demonstrated the adequacy of their alternative mode of education in
terms of the interest advanced by the state. In light of this
showing, the Court found that the state had not shown with
sufficient particularity how its concededly strong interest in
compulsory education would be adversely affected by granting an
exemption to the Amish.
10. The Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder,
supra, makes it clear that courts should engage in a two-step
analysis when considering a First Amendment Free Exercise claim.
It must first be determined whether the governmental action in
question in fact creates a burden on a defendant's exercise of
his religion. If a burden is found, it must then be balanced
against the governmental interest, with the government being
required to show an overriding or compelling reason for its
action. See Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402-03 (1963);
Wisconsin v. Yoder, supra, 406 U.S. at 214-215; Sequoyah v.
Tennessee Valley Authority, 620 F.2d 1159, 1163 (6th Cir. 1980);
Church of God v. Amarillo Independent School District, 511 F.
Supp. 613, 615 (N.D. Tex. 1981). In order to satisfy the
threshold requirement to demonstrate an infringement of his First
Amendment Free Exercise rights, an individual must show "the
coercive effect of the [state] enactment as it operates against
him in the practice of his religion." Brandon v. Board of Ed. of
Guilderland Central School District, 635 F.2d 971, 976 (2nd Cir.
1980), quoting School District of Abington Township v. Schempp,
203, 223 (1963). This analysis need not involve a court in
determining the sincerity of an individual's religious beliefs,
Brandon, supra, 635 F.2d at 976, citing Wisconsin v. Yoder,
supra; Sherbert v. Verner, supra.
Thus, before the constitutionality of a statute or regula-
tion as applied to a particular act can be placed in question, an
individual must show that application of the statute to the
particular act will unduly burden his exercise of a legitimate
religious belief. It is not enough that a defendant claims that
his actions were motivated by religious beliefs. Indeed, "the
Supreme Court has emphasized on numerous occasions that actions
and practices are not absolutely protected from governmental
regulation merely because the actor classifies these actions as
'religious'." United States v. Middleton, 690 F.2d 820, 824
(Ilth Cir. 1982), citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252
(1982); Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890); Reynolds v. United
States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878).
11. The record in this case does not begin to establish the
first step of the analysis employed by the Supreme Court in
Wisconsin v. Yoder, supra, that is, that enforcement of the
regulation against camping in Lafayette Park infringes the
defendants' free exercise of their religious beliefs. There is
absolutely no evidence as to the nature of defendants' religious
beliefs or the relationship of the act in question--camping in
Lafayette Park--to those religious beliefs. The most generous
interpretation that can be gleaned from defendant William Thomas'
but it does require that the court inquire
into the.relative importance of a particular
ritual and the degree to which exercise of
that practice is infringed by government
declaration in support of his motion is that he has sincere
religious beliefs that require him to live a life of poverty and
to protest governmental and societal actions and norms that he
views as evil. The other defendants have now joined in that
claim. Even granting that defendants have such sincere religious 
beliefs, a point we do not concede, there is not even a
suggestion that in order to exercise these religious beliefs,
defendants must camp in Lafayette Park, that camping in Lafayette
Part is the cornerstone of a religious ritual central to the
exercise of their religion, or a fundamental tenet of their
12. It is important to remember that the act at issue is
camping in Lafayette Park; enforcement of the regulation does not
bring into issue the defendants' exercise of their religious
beliefs, if such they are, by protesting in other ways, such as
erecting or carrying signs, or conducting all night vigils in
Lafayette Park, or conducting demonstrations in Lafayette Park or
other areas of the city, or camping in other areas of the city.
The Court elicited from defendant Thomas testimony that his
demonstrating and protesting with these signs and whatever else
you do or are alleged to have done at or near the Lafayette Park
at the time of your arrest" was a "central part" of his religious
belief. Tr. at 44. That hardly rises to the level of convincing
[3 In its April 23,1987 Order, the Court states that the
government does not contest the sincerity of defendants' beliefs.
In fact, however, the transcript of the hearing reveals that the
government took the position that the sincerity of defendants'
beliefs was not determinative, but did not concede that their
beliefs were sincere. Tr. at 48-49.
avidence that Thomas' camping activities in Lafayette Park form a
fundamental tenet of his religious belief which is seriously
burdened by the camping regulation. In other words, there is
simply no evidence to show that the act of camping in Lafayette
Park itself has any particular theological or religious sig-
nificance in the practice of defendants' alleged religion. For
example, there is no indication that the site -- Lafayette Park
itself has any religious significance; nor is there any
suggestion that the act -- camping -- is a fundamental ritual or
practice necessary for the defendants to carry out their
religious obligations. Defendants have not proffered one iota of
evidence that the particular act of lying prone in sleeping bags
in Lafayette Park is a fundamental tenet, a cardinal principle,
or a cornerstone of a ritual central to their religion.
13. It follows that application of the regulation against
camping in Lafayette Park will not unduly burden the defendants'
exercise of their religion. Even granting that defendants'
"sincerely held religious beliefs" require them to live a life of
poverty and to protest the evils they perceive in society,
enforcement of the ban on camping will not prevent them from
carrying out those beliefs. Enforcement of the regulation will
certainly not prevent defendants from living a life of poverty.
nor will it prevent defendants from protesting the evils of
society, even in Lafayette Park. Because defendants have not
nade a threshold showing that enforcement of the regulation
against camping in Lafayette Park unduly burdens their exercise
of legitimate religious beliefs by preventing them from participating in an act that is a central tenet of those religious
beliefs, there is no need for further inquiry: because no
infringement of deiendants' First Amendment rights has been
demonstrated, there is nothing to balance against the government's interest in the regulation.
14. In any event, the Supreme Court in Clark v. Community
For Creative Non-Violence [CCNV], 468 U.S. 288 (1984), has determined that the government has a substantial interest in maintaining the national parks in the Capital "in an attractive and
intact condition, readily available to the millions of people who
wish to see and enjoy them by their presence," an interest that
is plainly served by the regulation against camping in the parks.
Id. at 296, 299. In CCNV, the Court noted that the defendants,
who claimed that enforcement of the regulation infringed their
First Amendment freedom of speech rights, were not precluded from
alternative modes of expression. The Court found the regulation
to be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental
interest, and upheld its application against First Amendment
challenge. The regulation at issue in CCNV, of course, is the
same regulation in guestion in this case. Even if it were
assumed, by a very imaginative reading of the record in this
case, that camping in Lafayette Park is in some manner related to
defendants' exercise of their religious beliefs, the government
clearly has a substantial interest in enforcing the regulation
prohibiting camping in Lafayette Park that outweighs any incidental effect on defendants practice of their ·religion."
15. Finally, we are constrained to observe that defendant
William Thomas, whose purported religious beliefs form the basis
of this Court's dismissal of the charges against all five defendants, has on at least five prior occasions been convicted
under the camping regulation without interposing the defense he
has now raised, with several of those convictions affirmed by the
Court of Appeals. E.g., United States v. Thomas, et al., Nos.
83-1769, etc. (D.C. Cir. December 21, 1984). For Thomas suddenly
now to assert that, based on a 1974 "revelation" in his life, he
has for five years been violating the law as a fundamental tenet
of a sincere religious belief is indeed to strain credulity.
WHEREFORE, the government respectfully requests that the
Court reconsider its order dismissing the above-entitled cases,
grant the government a hearing on this issue, and then deny
JOSEPH E. DIGENOVA, D.C. Bar #073320
United States Attorney
LINDA S. CHAPMAN
Assistant United States Attorney
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I HEREBY CERTIFY that a copy of the foregoing has been
mailed to William Thomas, 1440 N Street, N.W. #410, Washington,
D.C.; Phillip Joseph, P.O. Box 27217, Washington, D.C.; Stephen
Semple, P.O. Box 2717, Washington, D.C.; counsel for Ellen
Thomas, Robert M. Hurleyr Esquire, 25 E Street, N.W., Washington,
D.C. 20001, and counsel for Scott Galindez, Mona Asiner. 1717 K
Street, N.W. #1200, Washington, D.C. 20036, this 1st day of
Assistant United States Attorney
Judiciary Center Bldg.
555 Fourth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Case Listing --- Proposition One ---- Peace Park