A U.S. District Court judge ruled yesterday that the Community for Creative Non-Violence may erect tents in Lafayette Square and on the Mall this winter, but the city's homeless may not sleep overnight in them as part of the group's planned demonstration.
Judge John H. Pratt, in an oral opinion at the conclusion of an hour-long hearing, said that the homeless had no constitutional rights to sleep in the parks and that even if they did, new federal regulations banning sleeping in the parks were a reasonable regulation of speech and were not discriminatory.
CCNV leaders said in interviews that unless the federal appellate court overrules Pratt's decision, the group will not erect tents. The "essence of the demonstration is the sleeping people," CCNV leader Mitch Snyder said.
The purpose of the proposed encampments, Snyder said, was to show the plight of the city's homeless. That could not be accomplished if the homeless are not allowed to sleep in the park, he said.
Snyder said the group will continue plans to put 20 tents in Lafayette Square and another 40 on the Mall on the assumption that Pratt's ruling would be overturned as a result of an appeal the group plans to file Monday. CCNV plans to call the encampment in the square "Reaganville II" and the encampment on the Mall "Congressional Village."
Pratt acknowledged that he was contradicting a ruling last year by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Richey on the same issue. Richey ruled that First Amendment rights to free speech meant that the homeless should be allowed to sleep in the tents.
The appeals court last year allowed the encampment in Lafayette Square since National Park Service regulations did not clearly prohibit camping overnight. But the appeals court did not address the constitutional issue raised by CCNV. Those park service regulations have since been changed to clearly forbid camping at those sites.
The permit issued by the park service would allow CCNV to erect the tents and allow demonstrators to stay there 24 hours a day, but would not allow the homeless to sleep there overnight.