Forest Service Enforces the 'Group Use' Rules
-- Scott Addison & William Thomas (March 1996) --

On Friday, February 16 a Forest Service Officer came into the Southeast Regional Rainbow Gathering in Florida's Osceola National Forest, and (allegedly) handed some papers to someone... thus dropped the first bombshell in a legal fight that will define the future of Constitutional Rights on Public Land:

('The Sequel')...
Civil Action No. 96-183

This class action suit alleges that the "Rainbow Family" had violated the new Forest Service regulation requiring a permit for any "Group Use" of more than 75 people in the National Forests. {36 FCR 251, 261}

In fact the gatherers just plain refused, on the principle that the First Amendment is all the permission they need to gather on our Land. The outcome will affect everyone in the United States as it upholds -- or radically alters -- fundamental legal concepts of individual liberty.

By Sunday evening the Federal lawsuit had been faxed, scanned, and posted in full text on the World Wide Web.* The cyberskirmishes commenced.

The government's 'civil' complaint -- which names ten presumed unincorporated associations, thirty-three individuals, and "unknown members 'focalizers,' [and] participants in the 1996 Osceola Rainbow Family Gathering" -- asks the court to declare that the National Forest Service (NFS) "group use regulations ... comply with the First Amendment ... and are otherwise legally valid..." It further seeks to "enjoin the defendants and their officers, employees, agents, servants, contractors, and attorneys, and all those acting in concert with them, from attending, conducting or participating in any way in a gathering within the National Forests in the states of Florida and elsewhere in the United States in violation of the group use regulations."

Since the early 1980's the Forest Service has tried several times to pass such a regulation. Two previous versions were struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts in Arizona (1984, 1986) and Texas (1988). A Rainbow defeat in Florida would radically alter all that: The NFS 'Group Use' regulations would transform the freedom to peacefully assemble and distribute literature in National Forests into a crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. [Federal Register: 60:168, 45257]

The otherwise peaceful gathering at Osceola was subjected to heavy police presence, with participation of Sheriffs from three counties, State, NFS and possibly other Federal law enforcement agencies. They set up three separate roadblocks on incoming roads near the site, and made numerous intrusions within the gathering. As for the total number of incidental citations, searches, and arrests associated with these police activities, the facts are still incomplete... so far the civil suit has occupied most focus among local Rainbows and supporters around the country.

The individual "defendants" were named as representatives of the Rainbow Family as a defendant class. Some were identified from casual conversations with Rangers on the site; apparently in most cases the information was taken from driver's licenses and other documents demanded by police officers at the roadblocks or on other pretexts. Then seemingly at random, these people were made liable just because they were going there, and summoned to respond within twenty days. This strategy carries a loaded Catch-22: By answering in court, defendants might unwittingly stipulate to the Feds' allegation that they are 'representatives', and that the Rainbow is a 'suable class'. "They can't sue the Rainbow Family," said Two Bears, an elder named as a defendant, explaining why it is not a legal entity, and why no permit can be signed:
"Our gatherings are founded on the principles of individual freedom and individual responsibility... I can't be responsible for you any more than you can be responsible for me. I mean that seems reasonable, but the Forest Service seems bent on trying to change the fact."

For nearly 25 years the gatherings have been self-sustaining as free events where food, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and information are provided and shared by participants. They have upheld an exemplary record of sites left fully cleaned-up and naturalized, and good cooperation with local Rangers to ensure health and safety -- all by pure consensual democracy on the Land.

A core tenet of the Rainbow creed is, "No one may speak for the Family." The will of the whole is only expressed in council on the land, by consensus. "Consensus" is the key: The bureaucrats cannot cope with the idea that all these things are achieved without a hierarchal organization, so they are trying to impose such a structure for the purposes of regulation. Yet Consensus is the very nature of Free Assembly -- individuals gathering of their own accord, enacting the purest form of 1st Amendment exercise, and a remarkable experiment in Public Stewardship on Public Land. "We must gather together," observed Butterfly, a Rainbow sister also named in the Federal suit -- "It's human nature." The 'Group Use' rules would put an end to the gatherings, yet they lack any 'rational basis' and achieve no legitimate purposes of land/resource protection; no "compelling government interest" has been shown to justify such a measure abridging rights.

In fact it is a device to establish total government authority, create new pretexts for enforcement, and exclude the Public from Public Land.

The environmental community has a serious stake in these questions. In the era of the 'Salvage Rider', the implications are clear:
If the "trustee" can't be trusted, responsibility to protect the National Forests comes back to Citizens , who must be able to go there, in order to monitor and heal them. It is a matter of our ultimate stewardship on Public Lands.

The above article appeared in Green Politics, Spring '96 (V.5 /No.1, pp. 4, 10)
For info c/o authors:
Thomas at 202-462-0757,
Scottie at 312-409-0018,
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