U.S.A. v. Adams, Great Falls Montana, (Nov. 15, 2000)

Plunker was one of three people picked out by the Forest Service at the 2000 Montana national gathering as “Rainbow leaders” to receive tickets for camping without a noncommercial group use permit. The second was Val a brother who always came to the gathering in a flatbed truck with coils of black PVC pipe loaded on the back, and was one of the principal engineers in laying out the plumbing system that carried water from the springs down to the populated part of the gathering and branched out to several main kitchens. The third was Kalif, a brother who was frequently to be seen at the place where incoming vehicles first entered the gathering, directing them to the appropriate parking areas or to the drop off points for supply loads.

Plunker challenged his citation, appearing pro se, and in his first motion for dismissal Plunker contended basically that the Forest Service forced its own hierarchical model of a religious group on the Rainbow Family in demanding that it appoint a representative. The Rainbow Family was:

not a “who” or a “what,” but a “Tao” or “Way”, or Creed. “Rainbow Family” is a spiritual ideal, and no one can legally file in court for “Rainbow Family” anymore than they can legally file in court on behalf of “Jesus Christ”.

… this Circle can only form where there is no ruling hierarchy or group, or ideology specifically in charge; no one viewpoint, and no persons or person, can “run the show” if all are truly equal.

The government wants Adams to accept the bestowed “membership”, in this religious group not of his choosing, not in accordance with his Creed. Further, Adams must accept being a leader or agent, of this religious group, accept some title like “elder’ or ‘designated signer”, also not in accordance with his Creed.

The Forest Service replied, as they had in the previous cases, that the group use regulation was a constitutional time, place, and manner restriction that is narrowly tailored to fit the specific government needs of protecting Forest Service resources, insuring public safety, and deciding between competing uses in a way that leaves open ample alternative channels for expression. Furthermore the signature requirement was a valuable means of ensuring that the group would adhere to the terms of the special use authorization and of protecting against fraudulent statements.

In the opening paragraph of their brief they said:

In their motions to dismiss, defendants Adams and Demars take what can only be described as a “shotgun” approach in challenging the constitutionality of the Forest Service’s group use regulations. Thus, defendants make a variety of arguments in the apparent hope of stumbling upon a constitutionally problematic provision.

Plunker responded in a second motion by expounding further on the signature requirement. He felt he could only act as “an informal contact” and that he “lacked the presence and authority to act as a group”. Therefore he was “only applying as an individual seeking use.” He was faced with:

a Hobson’s Choice, a dilemma between the regulation’s signature requirement and its prohibitions against false statements to the government.

The trial started at 9 in the morning and was over at half past 3 that afternoon. All three were found guilty as charged. The judge in his final ruling didn’t seem to address many of the points that Plunker raised. Instead he stated:

the constitutionality of the group use permit scheme, as interpreted by the Forest Service, is determined under the traditional three-part test used to analyze regulations governing the use of public forums

… the government may regulate the time, place, and manner of expressive activity that occurs in a public forum so long as the regulatory scheme (1) is content-neutral, (2) is narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and (3) leaves open ample alternatives for communication.

Adams concedes the first two prongs of this test but argues that the permit scheme fails the third prong because it does not leave open ample alternatives for communication. We find this argument to be without merit. …

The judge said there was nothing preventing the Rainbow Family from having its gatherings on private, state, or non-National Forest federal land, or from gathering in groups of less than 75 other than their own preferences, and all these alternatives were available to them.

He continued. Plunker:

asserts that an individual should not be punished merely because he or she was present during the time that improper group use occurred, arguing that to do so is to punish one for association, which is prohibited. This hypothetical situation is not the case before the court.

In his opinion Plunker was obviously a leader at this gathering, knew of the permit signature requirement, and chose to ignore it.

we find Adams’ argument that he was selectively prosecuted to be without merit. The evidence showed that the Forest Service cited Adams (along with two other participants) based on his role as an organizer of the 2000 gathering.

Val was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $500. Kalif was ordered to pay the same amount, but he had been in previous non-Rainbow related trouble with the law and he was sentenced to six months. Plunker paid the same fine, and he was sentenced to 90 days. The Forest Service tried to get the judge to order him to pay a “restitution” of $7,529.39 for cleanup and law enforcement expenses, but the judge rejected this, saying that even if a permit had been signed, the signer would have no such liability. After appealing and failing, Plunker finally served his sentence in the summer of 2005 in a minimum security federal detention center in Seattle, Washington.

September 16th, 2016 by John Anderson