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Is Camping a First Amendment Right?

by Liz Childers

We have the National Park Service to thank for the maintenance of our beloved national parks. They also take care of many national monuments and handle several national conservation efforts.
While their work is incredibly important, it is frequently a behind-the-scenes effort that draws little attention. With the exception of monument visitors or camping enthusiasts, few people really see or realize the fruits of the NPS’s labor.
Due to the six months of Occupy protests, the NPS has been brought into a greater spotlight. Many of the Occupy protests have and are taking place on federal land – federal land that is managed by the NPS. It is because of this that Washington D.C. protestors, NPS, and camping garnered a bit more media attention lately.
The Occupy DC movement has been taking place in McPherson Square. The NPS refused to evict the camping protestors from the federal land. Why? Eviction would be a violation of the First Amendment.
“The core of [Occupy DC’s] First Amendment activity is that they occupy the site,” explained NPS director Jonathan Jarvis. If you need a brief history lesson, the actual text of the First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Jarvis is saying that occupying – or camping – is central to the movement and to the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
Due to a congressional hearing at the end of January, protestors have, however, now been evicted.
This leaves us with a thoughtful question. Is your right to camp a First Amendment right? Let us know what you think.