Letter from William Thomas 2/25/93

Thomas, as volunteer for
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
(202) 462-0757

February 25, 1993

Department of Agriculture, Secretary Espy's Office
ATT: Cindy
14th and Independence S.W. Room 200-A
Washington, D.C. 20250

SUBJECT: A kinder and gentler domestic policy. Rescind USFS proposal to restrict peaceable assembly on public lands, amendments to 36 CFR 251 AND 261.

Dear Cindy,

Congratulations on your position of authority in the Secretary's office. May you counsel with wisdom and honesty. Hopefully this letter will assist you.

I understand you informed an inquirer that a person could not be arrested under the proposed anti-peaceable assembly regulations. Please refer to 36 CFR 261.1b, which provides that "(a)ny violations of Part 261 shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both."

As I understand it, the agency's position is that it has "a mandate to protect Forest Service lands." I don't quibble with that mandate, it's an important job. What bothers me is that -- as far as I can see -- the agency just hasn't articulated any rational connection between any specific FACTS indicating any threat to Forest Services lands which would justify a regulation that effectively transforms "rights," guaranteed under the First Amendment, into "a privilege," subject to agency discretion.

You will find enclosed my summarization of the National Forest Service report on the 1991 Vermont Rainbow Gathering an unanswered cover letter (February 5, 1991) to Marian Connolly. Rainbow Legaliaison, Appendix A. This letter to Ms. Connolly is just one example of my attempts to determine some rational connection between the facts found and her opinion that "anti-gathering regulations" are "necessary" to fulfill some legitimate agency mandate.

I don't claim that my "summarization" is "the facts," but I do claim that the material in quotation marks is a precise reproduction of what is printed in the NFS report. Despite the fact that the report and its appendices exceed 150 pages, I would also assert that the material in quotation marks accurately sums up all the substantial issues contained in the report.

I encourage you to compare my summarization to the complete report. Reproducing the entire report would be a considerable economic burden to me. Ms. Connolly (703-235-1488) would probably be happy to get you a copy without any trouble at all.

While the report itself is very sketchy on the exact figures, it is evident that a substantial amount of public funds went to a large, intrusive, but unnecessary police presence. Appendix A, pg. 4, paras. 1-3. In fact, the report indicates the Gathering caused less problems than an annual Vermont event called "Fair Week," which in "its first night alone generates more problems for (the Corrections Department) than what was experienced with the Rainbow Gathering." Appendix A, pg. 4, "Overkill."

Barry "Plunker" Adams asked me to send you the enclosed Rainbow video. By virtue of his association with the Rainbow Family, awareness of this regulation predates my own by several years.

For the past 20 years the Rainbow Family has harmlessly gathered on public lands. Last year there were over 200 such gatherings, large and small, the largest being in Colorado during July with many thousands of people attending. For additional information regarding the history of the Rainbow gatherings and the Forest Service see Appendix B.

For much of the past seven years NFS has consistently labored to implement a regulatory scheme which, for economic reasons (performance bonds and insurance), and/or philosophic reasons (e.g., "inalienable rights" transcend "permits"), would have the direct and proximate effect of transforming the "Rainbow Family gathering" into "a crime."

In Texas, 1988, the federal district court prevented the Forest Service from stopping the National Rainbow Family gathering. See, United States v. The Rainbow Family, 694 F. Supp. 294, (June 1, 1989, J. Justice, USED Tex. CA No. L-88-68); 55 Fed. Reg. 8498 (March 8, 1990), see also, United States v. Israel, No. Cr-86-027-TUC-RMB (May 10, 1986; 53 Fed. Reg. 16548 (May 10, 1988), amending 36 C.F.R. Sec. 251.50 (1987).

After the 1988 Texas Gathering several people, including Barry Adams, approached me in Lafayette (Peace) Park, Washington, D.C. They told me that the Rainbow Family Council had consented to the formation of a "Legaliaison." They asked whether I would be willing to work as a volunteer. It was explained that,
"(N)o individual is authorized to speak for the Rainbow Council, which speaks by consensus. (T)he Rainbow Council Legaliaison devised a method by which to keep the Rainbow Family and friends abreast of developments in the regulatory process through telephone, mail, and word of mouth." See, Rainbow Legaliaison, Appendix C, pg. 1, para. 3.

To me, freedom of peaceable assembly on public lands for expression and/or religious exercise affects a much broader spectrum than the Rainbow Family Gathering. Today the Rainbow Family, tomorrow the Boy Scouts -- or whoever. Since the "United States" began it has been recognized that the people have a right to peaceably assemble on public lands.

On the common ground of profound respect for the concepts of free assembly, speech and thought, Barry, myself, and a number of other people with similar commonality met with Dale Robertson, director of NFS, and group of NFS people who shared other common interests. Appendix C, pgs. 1 & 2.

First, the Forest Service agreed to act in "an attitude of positive cooperation." Appendix B, pg. 1. And, at first, they did. Id., pg. 3.

The next policy assault on freedom of assembly occurred during spring, 1990 when another regulation entered the process. I like to imagine the Republicans lost that battle to the forces of democracy. But the war didn't end. Reagan/Bush domestic policy went back to the drafting table for some streamlining.

As Ms. Connolly drafted it, Legaliaison tried to track the progress of the new regulations. But the cooperative attitude had degenerated into such an attitude of secrecy that -- contrary to the agreements made at the Legaliaison/Forest Service meeting, and inconsistent with previous agency procedure (Appendix C, pg. 3) -- a request for a copy of the draft rulemaking was denied "under exemption (b)(5) of FOIA."

My opposition to this rule stems from my belief that "the right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes" (Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 4). Without the "right" to assemble, it seems, "freedom of thought" and "freedom of speech" are meaningless phrases. To me this is a very important point, people have a need to assemble.

I like to think that Ms. Connolly has just been doing her job; the Reagan/Bush crew told her to write a regulation, so, just following orders, she wrote what they told her.

Many who voted for President Clinton believe that Reagan/Bush policy promoted the regulatory suppression of free thought and expression, greatly diminishing the First Amendment. Those people hope this administration will reverse that trend of abuse.

Maybe they're wrong. On February 19th Ms. Connolly told me that the regulation has now been approved, apparently by someone appointed by President Clinton, and is back in OMB awaiting approval for publication in the Federal Register.

Still, I am hoping the new administration will seriously consider whether it still wants to follow what -- even beyond the "Rainbow" -- many just plain "local citizens" (e.g., Appendix A, pg. 4, "Overkill," first paragraph) have viewed as some of the most unreasonable, repressive, dishonest, "police state" (id.) aspects of the old administration.

The foregoing is intended to communicate that 1) the Forest Service has a commendable mandate to protect public lands, 2) the Forest Service has offered no facts to show that peaceable assemblies pose a threat to public lands, thus 3) without any threat to public lands there is no logical reason to regulate "inalienable rights."

Please correct me wherever I'm mistaken.

For Peace through Reason,


cc: Rainbow Legaliaison network

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