Tents Situation

Published January 24, 2012

In the kind of legal hair-splitting that makes saner heads explode, Occupy DC inhabitants are suing the U.S. Interior Department over the definition of the term “camping” under a federal rule banning it in Washington, DC parks.

The rule defines “camping” as the erection of “temporary structures” in DC parks used for:

living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities.

In general, the rule continues:

The above-listed activities constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting these activities, are in fact using the area as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging.

However, the rule permits the erection of “temporary structures … for the purpose of symbolizing a message.”

The U.S. Supreme Court previously held tents can be symbolic free speech, but upheld the tent ban as a reasonable and content-neutral regulation on the time, place, and manner of it. To get around that ruling, the Occupy DC protesters are saying their erection of tents is a “vigil” not amounting to camping under the definition.

They also are asking for certification of the case as a class action.

Source: “Occupy D.C. Moves to Certify Class in Lawsuit Over Tents,” the blog of legal times; Code of Federal Regulations Section 7.96; Supreme Court ruling, January 18, 2012