Letter from William Thomas 2/25/93
Thomas, as volunteer for
RAINBOW FAMILY LEGALIAISON
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
February 25, 1993
Department of Agriculture, Secretary Espy's Office
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.
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,
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
Please correct me wherever I'm mistaken.
For Peace through Reason,
"(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.
cc: Rainbow Legaliaison network
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