Attorney Yetta Kurland, also one of the petitioning attorneys, praised Judge Billings’ decision in glowing terms: “This is a victory for everyone who believes in the First Amendment. We will continue to fight for everyone’s right to continue the occupation.” In response to the injunction, Daniel Alterman, also a petitioning attorney with the LPLWG, stated that, “This is a victory for all Americans, for the constitution and for the 99%.” Gideon Oliver, yet another petitioning attorney with the LPLWG said, “The LPLWG has been fighting to ensure their right to free speech from day one of the occupation. The occupiers right to free speech is based in our most core legal principles and we will be here till the end to fight for those rights.”
Selfish entitlement is the “core legal principle” which the 99-ers’ lawyers are fighting for. Because they arrogantly claim to represent the “99%,” the protesters/occupiers believe that they have special absolute status under the First Amendment to impose their presence on an entire park that has been dedicated to general public use, to the exclusion of everyone else. People trying to express an ideologically opposite point of view or who just want to enjoy the park for the recreational purposes for which it was originally intended have been effectively shut out for nearly two months. Citizens living and working in the area have been impacted by the constant noise and filth. Small business owners have been harassed.
The courts have long ruled that the First Amendment is not absolute. The 99-ers do not have a First Amendment right to occupy Zuccotti Park whenever, wherever, and however they please. The First Amendment is subject to reasonable, content-neutral restrictions, including restrictions on the time, manner and place of protests that are reasonably necessary to protect the health and safety of the citizenry. Erecting an uninvited tent city for an indefinite term of squatting goes beyond the bounds of the right of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. As Mayor Bloomberg put it regarding the occupiers, the “First Amendment doesn’t protect the use of tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the park with just the power of their arguments.”
Fortunately, the daylong saga had a relatively happy ending. A saner judge was assigned to assume responsibility to take over the case from the former ACLU lawyer, Judge Billings.
Late afternoon on Tuesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman ruled that Occupy Wall Street protesters may return to Zuccotti Park to protest, but will no longer be allowed to bring their tents and other camping equipment. “The court is mindful of the movements’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and peaceable assembly,” Judge Stallman wrote. But Judge Stallman added that the Occupy Wall Street protesters “had not demonstrated that the rules adopted by the owners of the property, concededly after the demonstrations began, are not reasonable time place and manner restrictions permitted under the First Amendment.” The protesters “have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators and other installations.”
The 99-ers, their lawyers and the ACLU lawyer-turned judge Lucy Billings trampled on the rights of others while twisting the First Amendment to suit the occupiers’ selfish purposes. The occupiers will be back to cause trouble at Zuccotti Park or elsewhere in New York City, to be sure. But at least they finally were given the clear message that we live in a society built on the rule of law where rights and freedoms are accompanied by obligations and responsibilities.
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