Letter from PCU 7/30/95

PO Box 6625 - Chicago, IL 60680

30 July 1995
PCU // Freedom of Assembly Project

Mr. James R. Lyons, Under Secretary
USDA / Natural Resources & Environment
Administration Building - Room 217E
14th & Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

RE: Final "Group Use" Rules

Mr. Lyons:

Your May 12 letter did not arrive until early June, when it was transmitted to me from our allied address in Washington. Since then I have been traveling, camping, and "off the grid"... please don't mistake this delay for indifference.

In light of the substantial information we have provided over the past two years, your response is alarmingly uninformed. As an answer to our formal appeals, it begs the question entirely: It is inadequate and unacceptable. Our materials set forth hard facts and analysis on the "Group Use" and "Law Enforcement" rulemakings, the effects of proposed and de facto policies on the Bill of Rights and the future of Public Land, and why the Forest Service must change its course. Perhaps you should read them again, with comprehension.

Just like those wacky OGC lawyers, your logic bears the clear mark of "Bureaucratic NewThink" -- leaning on a truism to justify a fallacy, going circular:

Yes..." ...The Forest Service has a statutory obligation to manage the occupancy and use on NFS lands and to protect forest resources." Not an issue, Jim... no sense waving the Mandate of the Forest Service as a rationale for this rulemaking. First of all, that is not enough; moreover it is no basis for a wild proposition about some "long-standing principle that a permit is required for noncommercial group use of NFS lands."

Let us be clear on our premises:

The Forest Service cannot "reinstate [a] long-standing principle" that does not exist: True... The Forest Service has sought repeatedly to impose a permit require- ment for "noncommercial group use of NFS lands" as a matter of policy -- and to enforce such strictures de facto by unlawful exercises of police power. The proposed rules would write these authorities into the Federal Code for the first time, creating new government controls with precedents reverberating through all levels of American Law.

In fact the only "long-standing principle" to be upheld is that free assembly on public land may not be infringed: This is a right retained by Americans under the Constitution, not a 'privilege' to be granted or denied by government officials. The environmental pretexts of such powers may sound benign and noble, but the Forest Service has failed to show any need: There is no rational basis for these regulations; defining Free Assembly as a "Special Use" does not change the facts, nor does it obviate the Bill of Rights. This is the core issue.

Where no compelling government interest is shown, it is inherently unconstitutional for government agencies even to hold such authorities in the law: As the court observed in United States v. Rainbow Family (695 F.Supp. 294, E.D. Tex. 1988), "The 'very possibility of abuse' will invalidate a regulation requiring a permit for expressive activity." [at 323, citing Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 272 (1951)]

By definition, Citizens do not need permission from the government to exercise First Amendment freedoms of assembly, expression, and belief. By definition, Fourth Amendment protections extend to these activities on public land, not to be impeded by enforcement under false pretexts.

Let's Get Real: Similar rules have been struck down twice in Federal courts; the big question is why they keep coming back, and this is a matter of policy: When asked about this, a high-placed official in the Office of General Council asserted that "We don't think the courts can tell us how to run the agency."

This is the attitude of a Cult of Control in the government that is out of control. In fact there is a long legacy of actions -- at headquarters and in the field -- reflecting high-placed, entrenched convictions that the Forest Service is above the Law. This cannot continue.

And think again about that "statutory obligation... to protect forest resources":

Historically the Agency's environmental record is grim. Now they claim to be "Reinventing the Forest Service", with grand jargon on saving ecosystems and serving the public; yet the incentives are more about salesmanship and serving "customers". We see that the Forest Service has been heavily politicized, infused with ideology and positioned to parley off public land and resources for votes and revenues.

Federal forest management practices are playing into a huge patronage system. In effect, the 'Group Use' rule is a government land grab to preempt public control.

Where the Forest Service fails to act in the long-term interests of the National Forests, it is the Peoples' right and obligation to exercise final stewardship on Public Land.

The will and capacity for this has been demonstrated time and again: Public gatherings have upheld a high environmental standard, and they are evolving toward more active projects in land reclamation. In this light, preserving Free Assembly is the best way to assure that our natural heritage will be preserved for future generations.

The draft 'Group Use' rule is under review at the Office of Management and Budget, but in the chain of procedure and command, the final decision is yours. Please realize how decisive this is, and all that is at stake:

For the sake of our "legacy of Land and Liberty", put a stop to this rulemaking, shut down the bureaucratic goose-stepping, and move Forest Service policy into accord with First and Fourth Amendment Rights.

We have called for cooperation, and this would be good policy.

Our substantial information and critique deserve substantial response.

Your genuine reconsiderations are needed and awaited.

For Peace on the Land,

Scott C. Addison -- PCU Volunteer

cc: Office of Management & Budget

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