Gravely Curtails First Amendment Rights for All
The U.S. General Services Administration Regional Director issued a letter of denial in response to a permit application submitted by Occupy Eugene members seeking to continue their public protest at the corner of 7th and Pearl Streets in Eugene, Oregon. Occupy Eugene members have stated they will continue their protest without a permit and will risk arrest to challenge the restriction upon their First Amendment Rights.
On July 11, a member of Occupy Eugene received a citation with a brief arrest for continuing to exercise her right to be in the public space. CLDC will be fighting this citation in court. Read the Register-Guard article about her encounter.
On May 1, 2012, members of Occupy Eugene began a protest at the Federal Plaza location at 7th and Pearl Streets. The demonstrators have created a vibrant space that includes a table and awning where they talk with people and distribute literature regarding the many political issues represented by OE. The corner also contains many political signs and flags on topics such as “support our vets,” corporate greed and corruption, and environmental concerns. Community members have expressed their opinions on this corner regularly for decades without problems. The local Federal Protective Services officer told OE that they were welcome at the location for as long as they wanted as long as the protestors did not sleep at the location and obeyed the law. He requested that Occupy Eugene apply for a 60-day permit to document the 24-hour a day protest and provide the building manager with a point of contact. OE applied for the permit, agreed to the condition that its members would not sleep at the location, and the permit was granted. OE has been peacefully demonstrating at this location for the last 70 days without any problems or incidents. Several other community groups have also continued to use the public space without any conflicts.
Shortly before the 60 day permit expired, the Regional Director of the GSA out of Washington contacted OE to inform them that they would need to apply for a new 30 day permit and that they would only be allowed to protest from 9am to 5pm. The Director claimed that the local federal officials had granted OE’s 24 hour a day permit “by mistake,” and that as a result of ‘Occupy problems in other states,’ they were no longer allowing protests 24 hours a day. The Director did not provide any problems or complaints with the OE protest location. OE then submitted a new 30 day permit requesting the same terms and conditions as their prior permit, including a 24-hour presence. On July 9, 2012, the GSA Director denied OE’s permit application stating, “The primary reason that the permit is not approved is that it seeks to maintain a presence within the plaza for 24 hours a day for a period of 30 days.” The Director now states that he will curtail the right to protest between the hours of 10pm and 7am.
“The denial does not provide a single compelling governmental reason to restrict the constitutional rights of the Occupy Eugene protest,” states attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “In order for the government to curtail a person’s First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, they must have specific important interests that override or trump our First Amendment rights. There have been no complaints or allegations of interference or property damage by the protestors, and this corner is one of the most widely used public forums in Eugene. Our constitutional rights do not terminate at 10pm. The government cannot dictate the manner of lawful political expression.” Regan explains.
Even more offensive to the constitutional rights of all citizens, is the statement made by the GSA Director that anyone who seeks to protest on any federal property—whether a public forum or not—will need to apply for a permit to do so. Regardless of whether a single person wishes to hold a sign, beat a drum, or simply stand in silent protest for an hour, the government is now demanding that these individuals first ask permission to exercise their constitutional rights. “This is a prior restraint on the constitutional rights of citizens seeking to exercise their rights to protest at a quintessential public forum– a place where your 1st amendment rights are most protected from government encroachment. If this is truly the government’s current policy, it is a grave curtailment of the rights of the people of Eugene,” Regan asserts.
The GSA Director stated that he would be delivering a notice to vacate the protest area today because the demonstrators no longer have a valid permit. If they do not leave by tomorrow, they will face arrest for lawfully protesting in a public forum without a permit that the GSA has approved. “Many citizens are willing to stand up to challenge this constitutional threat and will risk arrest and prosecution to do so. It will be up to the Federal Court to defend the Constitutional rights of the people,” Regan says.
Confrontation looms between police, protesters
Occupy Eugene exists plaza; one arrested