General Comments


Government's Intent With Respect to the Rainbow Family.

Approximately 50 respondents commented that Rainbow Family Gatherings contribute to world peace and love. Many of these respondents asked the agency not to break up the Gatherings.

Seventy-two respondents stated that the proposed rule is a direct attack on the Rainbow Family or is written with the Rainbow Family in mind. Specifically, these respondents believed that the Rainbow Family is the group most affected by the proposed rule; that no other group is mentioned in showing a need for the regulations; that in United States v. Israel and United States v. Rainbow Family, the agency tried to stop Rainbow Family Gatherings; that the agency imposes less stringent standards for site clean-up on more mainstream groups; that the proposed rule is a vehicle for spying on Rainbow Family members; that Forest Service and state and local law enforcement officers have selectively enforced laws to harass and intimidate people attending Rainbow Family Gatherings; that law enforcement officers have looked for activity that could be construed as illegal; that the Forest Service has been unreasonable and hostile at Rainbow Family Gatherings; that the number of law enforcement officers at Rainbow Family Gatherings is excessive and a waste of money; that law enforcement officers have established checkpoints at the entrance to Rainbow Family Gatherings to search cars and to verify car registration, car insurance, and driver's licenses; that at the 1993 Gathering in Alabama, a few people without car registration or insurance were held in chains and beaten; that state police at the 1993 Gathering conducted regular armed patrols and random searches; and that some Rainbow Family members have been taken into custody and forced to pay a fine for their release.

In contrast, one respondent stated that the proposed rule is clearly aimed at more than just one type of gathering. Another respondent noted that to comply with cases on point, the regulation has been modified to treat all group uses the same, regardless of whether they involve the expression of views. One respondent commented that the Forest Service was hospitable and kept order and did a remarkable job handling the crowd at the 1993 Gathering. Another respondent stated that the Forest Service did an excellent job helping the Rainbow Family have a safe and healthy gathering in 1993 and added that the Forest Service was friendly and helpful.


The intent of this rule is not to break up or prohibit any group uses, including Rainbow Family Gatherings.

Rather, the intent of this rule is to control or prevent harm to forest resources, address concerns of public health and safety, and allocate space. In United States v. Israel and United States v. Rainbow Family, the Forest Service was not attempting to prohibit the Rainbow Family Gathering, but rather to enforce existing group use regulations where the Rainbow Family had failed to obtain a special use authorization.

The Forest Service hosts many types of noncommercial group uses on National Forest System lands, such as company picnics, weddings, group hikes and horseback rides, demonstrations, and group gatherings. This final rule does not single out any particular group or type of event. As two respondents noted, this rule applies to all noncommercial group uses, both those involving and those not involving the expression of views. The Department intends to apply this rule consistently and fairly as required by law to all noncommercial group uses.

The Forest Service makes every effort to be friendly and hospitable and to help every group have a safe and healthy visit to the national forests. The agency's law enforcement approach at large group gatherings reinforces this effort. As shown by the reports on the 1991 and 1992 Rainbow Family Gatherings, agency law enforcement officers endeavor to act as good hosts to prevent potential problems; to provide for public safety; to maintain close coordination with other involved agencies, such as the local highway patrol, sheriff's office, and health department; and to ensure in a courteous, professional manner compliance with federal, state, and local law and agency regulations.

To meet these objectives, enhanced law enforcement is needed for group uses. Perimeter patrols by local and federal law enforcement agencies during the 1991 Rainbow Family Gathering, for example, focused on protecting local residents and their property, facilitating traffic flows, maintaining safety on all state and local roads, and responding to visitors' needs or calls for help.

The Forest Service has endeavored to enforce its regulations not only fully but fairly. Some Rainbow Family members who have committed violations at the annual Gatherings have been taken into custody and/or have had to pay a fine. For example, after coordinating with a local United States Magistrate and Assistant United States Attorney, Forest Service law enforcement officers adopted a procedure at the early stages of the 1992 Rainbow Family Gathering to allow prosecution of violators who were temporarily residing in the area. This procedure required violators either to pay a fine upon issuance of a violation notice or to be taken into custody and brought before a magistrate. By paying the fine, the violator did not forego the right to appear in court and contest the violation.

Shortly after receiving complaints about the procedure from Rainbow Family members, the United States Attorney's office recommended that the procedure be altered. The new procedure required that a violation notice for an optional appearance be issued if the violator could present sufficient identification (driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance in the driver's name). If adequate identification could not be presented, the violator would have to pay the fine upon issuance of the violation notice or be detained. This change in procedure illustrates the agency's effort to balance its law enforcement obligations against its concern for due process.

The Department acknowledges that the level of law enforcement activities may not always have been appropriate for group uses. For example, while it may be appropriate to post Forest Service officials at the entrance to a Rainbow Family Gathering to deter illegal activity and to provide helpful information on the national forests and resource protection, it is not necessary or appropriate to search cars entering the Gathering or to verify the driver's car registration, insurance, and license. This practice was curtailed at a gathering in Mississippi in July 1993 as soon as it came to the attention of responsible Forest Service officials. Promulgation of this rule will help the Department ensure a consistent, nationwide approach to law enforcement for group uses.


Government's Intent Generally.

Approximately 40 respondents believed that the intent of the proposed rule is to allow the Forest Service to deny the use of public lands to groups the agency finds undesirable. These respondents stated that the history of the rule shows that the agency's intent is to restrict speech and that by regulating all noncommercial activities under the same standards, the agency is in effect still attempting to restrict First Amendment rights. These respondents felt that if the agency really supported the rights of free speech and assembly, it would be apparent from the proposed rule and there would be no need to state it in the preamble.

Other respondents stated that the proposed rule masks an agenda that has nothing to do with protecting resources and addressing public health and safety; that the Forest Service has invoked public health concerns rigidly and arbitrarily to discourage gatherings and has used these concerns as a pretext for taking other enforcement action, such as dealing with the use of illegal drugs; and that given the proposed rule is written like a legal brief, with a provision for immediate judicial review, and the agency's past attempts to regulate noncommercial group use, it is reasonable to view this regulation as an attempt to restrict assemblies via court order.

Other respondents stated that the agency should specify what will be done to ensure that enforcement of the rule will not result in acts of terrorism against those who like to gather in the national forests; that the proposed rule targets those who go to the forests to worship; that the proposed rule is a direct attack on naturists; that the agency doesn't need a regulation to ensure equal treatment for all groups because equal treatment is already guaranteed by the Constitution; that the proposed rule can be selectively enforced and is therefore discriminatory in nature; that the proposed rule is discriminatory in nature, particularly in view of the severe restrictions on Native Americans' access to tribal lands and the intimidation of Native Americans by law enforcement; and that those responsible for the inception and formulation of the proposed rule are enemies of the people of this country.


The intent of this rule is not to deny the use of National Forest System lands to any group, nor is the intent of this rule to restrict speech.

Rather, the intent of this rule is to implement reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on group uses of National Forest System lands.

In addition to the need to mitigate adverse impacts on forest resources and to address concerns of public health and safety, there is a need to allocate space in the face of increasing legal constraints on the use of National Forest System lands, including the need to protect endangered, threatened, or other plant and animal species. The competition for available sites in the national forests among animals, plants, and humans has increased as more demands and restrictions have been placed on use of the national forests. Requiring a special use authorization allows the agency to act as a kind of ``reservation desk'' for proposed uses and activities, including noncommercial group uses.

The Department believes that its support for the rights of free speech and assembly is not only stated in the preamble, but is apparent from the language and structure of the rule. The rule does not single out any group. On the contrary, the final rule establishes one category called ``noncommercial group uses''; restricts the content of an application for noncommercial group uses to information concerning time, place, and manner; applies the same evaluation criteria to all applications for noncommercial group uses regardless of whether they involve the expression of views; establishes specific, content-neutral evaluation criteria for noncommercial group uses; provides that applications for noncommercial group uses will be granted or denied within a short, specific timeframe; provides that if an application is denied and an alternative time, place, or manner will allow the applicant to meet all the evaluation criteria, the authorized officer will offer that alternative; provides that the authorized officer will explain in writing the reason for denial of applications for noncommercial group uses; and provides that such a denial is immediately subject to judicial review. These provisions have been included to meet the constitutional requirements of a valid time, place, and manner restriction identified in case law, including United States v. Israel and United States v. Rainbow Family.

This rule is needed to ensure equal treatment for all groups. Various members of the public and state and local governments have criticized the Forest Service for applying a double standard in not requiring all large groups to obtain a special use authorization. This rule ensures that all noncommercial groups are treated equally under the law.

It is the Department's intent that this rule will be applied consistently to all noncommercial groups as required by law. Moreover, it is essential, both as a matter of fairness and as a matter of constitutional law, that this rule be applied uniformly. The Forest Service intends to provide training to its personnel to ensure that the rule is implemented consistently.

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