In Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288
(1984), the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a National Park
Service regulation prohibiting camping in national parks in
places other than designated campgrounds did not violate
the First Amendment even when camping was a form of
symbolic speech.

The case began when the Community for Creative Non-
Violence (CCNV) sought an injunction against the park service’s
regulation prohibiting camping so it could hold a
demonstration in Lafayette Park, across from the White
House, and on the National Mall to highlight the plight of
the homeless. The demonstrators planned to sleep in tents to
demonstrate how the homeless live. The district court found
in favor of the park service, but the federal appeals court
overturned the ruling, finding that the regulation infringed
the demonstrator’s free expression. The Supreme Court

Agreeing that sleeping in tents to show support for the
plight of the homeless was a form of symbolic speech, Justice
Byron R.White, writing for the Court, also found that it fell
within the definition of camping forbidden by park service
regulations. He noted that symbolic expression is subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. For guidance in determining whether these regulations were acceptable, the Court turned to United States v. O’Brien (1968).

In applying the O’Brien test, the regulation first had to be
within the power of the government. The Court found that
the government had an adequate foundation of power to
enact the regulation. In this particular case, the regulation
against camping had not been made for the purpose of limiting
the expression of any form of ideas. Rather, the regulation
had been narrowly crafted to further the substantial
governmental interest of protecting national parks so that
they can be enjoyed by millions of people. The need to protect
the national parks extended to Lafayette Park and the National Mall, which would be substantially changed if camping were allowed there. White also found that the regulation left ample opportunities for demonstrators to express their views, specifically pointing out that the park service had granted a permit in response to a CCNV request to set up twenty tents in Lafayette Park and forty tents on the National Mall. Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined by William
J. Brennan Jr., dissented, believing the demonstrators’ sleeping
to be a form of protected symbolic speech.

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