Free Expression vs. Public Order

The clearing of Zuccotti Park in New York raises interesting First Amendment questions.

The outcome should definitely rely heavily on the facts, and I’m not sure the facts on the ground favored the governments eviction of the Occupy protesters. The gov’t argued that conditions were unsanitary and other people couldn’t use the park. The protesters denied this, claiming to have their own cleaning crews and garbage protocols, and that others could easily use the park. Were others trying to use the park? Were there any legitimate complaints in this regard?

I agree generally with the statement that the right to free speech is not equivalent to the right to permanently camp out in a public park – when the campout is causing issues. But, unless there are articulable, substantive and verifiable (and proved!) reasons to prohibit the camping out, then it shouldn’t be prohibited. Otherwise (and this may well have been the case), the notions of public health and safety issues, and denial of use to other park-goers could be complete pretexts concocted by the powers that be who don’t like the message they’re hearing.

The linked article has a nice discussion.