I’m not in sympathy with the OWS folks, but…
Recently I saw on a blog someone more or less obliquely criticizing those who applauded the Citizens United decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending and applaud the crackdowns on OWS protestors. Damn right that’s a contradiction.
Granted, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that non-discriminatory laws of general applicability that don’t go too far in their limits on liberty are acceptable constraints on our constitutional rights, and laws against camping in public parks are exactly that kind of generally applicable law. But I don’t find that formulation satisfactory in cases like this. The First Amendment specifically protects the rights to speech, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government. I think that means when people are specifically exercising those rights, the generally applicable laws have to be enacted and enforced in a way that allows a lot of leeway.
The OWS protestors should be allowed to camp out in the parks to engage in their protests as long as they damn well please. And the complaints that they’re un-American need to be rebutted with the response that efforts to limit the exercise of peaceful political protest are efforts to undermine the American ideals expressed in the First Amendment.