Clark v. Community for Creative Nonviolence


No. 82-1998 Argued: March 21, 1984 --- Decided: June 29, 1984
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether a National Park Service regulation prohibiting camping in certain parks violates the First Amendment when applied to prohibit demonstrators from sleeping in Lafayette Park and the Mall in connection with a demonstration intended to call attention to the plight of the homeless. We hold that it does not, and reverse the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals.


The Interior Department, through the National Park Service, is charged with responsibility for the management and maintenance of the National Parks, and is authorized to promulgate rules and regulations for the use of the parks in accordance with the purposes for which they were established. [p290] 16 U.S.C. §§ 1 1a-1, 3. [n1] The network of National Parks includes the National Memorial-core parks, Lafayette Park and the Mall, which are set in the heart of Washington, D.C., and which are unique resources that the Federal Government holds in trust for the American people. Lafayette Park is a roughly 7-acre square located across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Although originally part of the White House grounds, President Jefferson set it aside as a park for the use of residents and visitors. It is a "garden park with a . . . formal landscaping of flowers and trees, with fountains, walks and benches." National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, White House and President's Park, Resource Management Plan 4.3 (1981). The Mall is a stretch of land running westward from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial some two miles away. It includes the Washington Monument, a series of reflecting pools, trees, lawns, and other greenery. It is bordered by, inter alia, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art. Both the Park and the Mall were included in Major Pierre L'Enfant's original plan for the Capital. Both are visited by vast numbers of visitors from around the country, as well as by large numbers of residents of the Washington metropolitan area.

Under the regulations involved in this case, camping in National Parks is permitted only in campgrounds designated for that purpose. 36 CFR § 50.27(a) (1983). No such campgrounds have ever been designated in Lafayette Park or the Mall. Camping is defined as

the use of park land for living accommodation purposes such as sleeping activities, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose [p291] of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or using any tents or . . . other structure . . . for sleeping or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities.

Ibid. These activities, the regulation provides,

constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting these activities, are in fact using the area as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging.

Ibid. Demonstrations for the airing of views or grievances are permitted in the Memorial-core parks, but for the most part only by Park Service permits. 36 CFR § 50.19 (1983). Temporary structures may be erected for demonstration purposes, but may not be used for camping. 36 CFR § 50.19(e)(8) (1983). [n2]

In 1982, the Park Service issued a renewable permit to respondent Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) to conduct a wintertime demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall for the purpose of demonstrating the plight of the [p292] homeless. The permit authorized the erection of two symbolic tent cities: 20 tents in Lafayette Park that would accommodate 50 people and 40 tents in the Mall with a capacity of up to 100. The Park Service, however, relying on the above regulations, specifically denied CCNV's request that demonstrators be permitted to sleep in the symbolic tents.

CCNV and several individuals then filed an action to prevent the application of the no-camping regulations to the proposed demonstration, which, it was claimed, was not covered by the regulation. It was also submitted that the regulations were unconstitutionally vague, had been discriminatorily applied, and could not be applied to prevent sleeping in the tents without violating the First Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Park Service. The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, reversed. Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Watt, 227 U.S.App.D.C.19, 703 F.2d 586 (1983). The 11 judges produced 6 opinions. Six of the judges believed that application of the regulations so as to prevent sleeping in the tents would infringe the demonstrators' First Amendment right of free expression. The other five judges disagreed, and would have sustained the regulations as applied to CCNV's proposed demonstration. [n3] We granted the Government's petition for certiorari, 464 U.S. 1016 (1983), and now reverse. [n4] [p293]


We need not differ with the view of the Court of Appeals that overnight sleeping in connection with the demonstration is expressive conduct protected to some extent by the First Amendment. [n5] We assume for present purposes, but do not decide, that such is the case, cf. United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 376 (1968), but this assumption only begins the inquiry. Expression, whether oral or written or symbolized by conduct, is subject to reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions. We have often noted that restrictions of this kind are valid, provided that they are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information. City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789 (1984); United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171 (1983); Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37, 45-46 (1983); Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, [p294] Inc., 452 U.S. 640, 647-648 (1981); Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 771 (1976); Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 530, 535 (1980).

It is also true that a message may be delivered by conduct that is intended to be communicative and that, in context, would reasonably be understood by the viewer to be communicative. Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405"]418 U.S. 405 (1974); 418 U.S. 405 (1974); Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). Symbolic expression of this kind may be forbidden or regulated if the conduct itself may constitutionally be regulated, if the regulation is narrowly drawn to further a substantial governmental interest, and if the interest is unrelated to the suppression of free speech. United States v. O'Brien, supra.

Petitioners submit, as they did in the Court of Appeals, that the regulation forbidding sleeping is defensible either as a time, place, or manner restriction or as a regulation of symbolic conduct. We agree with that assessment. The permit that was issued authorized the demonstration, but required compliance with 36 CFR § 50.19 (1983), which prohibits "camping" on park lands, that is, the use of park lands for living accommodations, such as sleeping, storing personal belongings, making fires, digging, or cooking. These provisions, including the ban on sleeping, are clearly limitations on the manner in which the demonstration could be carried out. That sleeping, like the symbolic tents themselves, may be expressive and part of the message delivered by the demonstration does not make the ban any less a limitation on the manner of demonstrating, for reasonable time, place, or manner regulations normally have the purpose and direct effect of limiting expression, but are nevertheless valid. City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, supra; Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., supra; Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77 (1949). Neither does the fact that sleeping, arguendo, may be expressive [p295] conduct, rather than oral or written expression, render the sleeping prohibition any less a time, place, or manner regulation. To the contrary, the Park Service neither attempts to ban sleeping generally nor to ban it everywhere in the parks. It has established areas for camping, and forbids it elsewhere, including Lafayette Park and the Mall. Considered as such, we have very little trouble concluding that the Park Service may prohibit overnight sleeping in the parks involved here.

The requirement that the regulation be content-neutral is clearly satisfied. The courts below accepted that view, and it is not disputed here that the prohibition on camping, and on sleeping specifically, is content-neutral, and is not being applied because of disagreement with the message presented. [n6] Neither was the regulation faulted, nor could it be, on the ground that, without overnight sleeping, the plight of the homeless could not be communicated in other ways. The regulation otherwise left the demonstration intact, with its symbolic city, signs, and the presence of those who were willing to take their turns in a day-and-night vigil. Respondents do not suggest that there was, or is, any barrier to delivering to the media, or to the public by other means, the intended message concerning the plight of the homeless. [p296]

It is also apparent to us that the regulation narrowly focuses on the Government's substantial interest in maintaining the parks in the heart of our Capital in an attractive and intact condition, readily available to the millions of people who wish to see and enjoy them by their presence. To permit camping -- using these areas as living accommodations -- would be totally inimical to these purposes, as would be readily understood by those who have frequented the National Parks across the country and observed the unfortunate consequences of the activities of those who refuse to confine their camping to designated areas.

It is urged by respondents, and the Court of Appeals was of this view, that, if the symbolic city of tents was to be permitted, and if the demonstrators did not intend to cook, dig, or engage in aspects of camping other than sleeping, the incremental benefit to the parks could not justify the ban on sleeping, which was here an expressive activity said to enhance the message concerning the plight of the poor and homeless. We cannot agree. In the first place, we seriously doubt that the First Amendment requires the Park Service to permit a demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall involving a 24-hour vigil and the erection of tents to accommodate 150 people. Furthermore, although we have assumed for present purposes that the sleeping banned in this case would have an expressive element, it is evident that its major value to this demonstration would be facilitative. Without a permit to sleep, it would be difficult to get the poor and homeless to participate or to be present at all. This much is apparent from the permit application filed by respondents: "Without the incentive of sleeping space or a hot meal, the homeless would not come to the site." App. 14. The sleeping ban, if enforced, would thus effectively limit the nature, extent, and duration of the demonstration and to that extent ease the pressure on the parks.

Beyond this, however, it is evident from our cases that the validity of this regulation need not be judged solely by reference [p297] to the demonstration at hand. Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U.S. at 652-653. Absent the prohibition on sleeping, there would be other groups who would demand permission to deliver an asserted message by camping in Lafayette Park. Some of them would surely have as credible a claim in this regard as does CCNV, and the denial of permits to still others would present difficult problems for the Park Service. With the prohibition, however, as is evident in the case before us, at least some around-the-clock demonstrations lasting for days on end will not materialize, others will be limited in size and duration, and the purposes of the regulation will thus be materially served. Perhaps these purposes would be more effectively and not so clumsily achieved by preventing tents and 24-hour vigils entirely in the core areas. But the Park Service's decision to permit nonsleeping demonstrations does not, in our view, impugn the camping prohibition as a valuable, but perhaps imperfect, protection to the parks. If the Government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the National Parks are adequately protected, which we think it has, and if the parks would be more exposed to harm without the sleeping prohibition than with it, the ban is safe from invalidation under the First Amendment as a reasonable regulation of the manner in which a demonstration may be carried out. As in City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, the regulation "responds precisely to the substantive problems which legitimately concern the [Government]." 466 U.S. at 810.

We have difficulty, therefore, in understanding why the prohibition against camping, with its ban on sleeping overnight, is not a reasonable time, place, or manner regulation that withstands constitutional scrutiny. Surely the regulation is not unconstitutional on its face. None of its provisions appears unrelated to the ends that it was designed to serve. Nor is it any less valid when applied to prevent camping in Memorial-core parks by those who wish to demonstrate [p298] and deliver a message to the public and the central Government. Damage to the parks, as well as their partial inaccessibility to other members of the public, can as easily result from camping by demonstrators as by nondemonstrators. In neither case must the Government tolerate it. All those who would resort to the parks must abide by otherwise valid rules for their use, just as they must observe the traffic laws, sanitation regulations, and laws to preserve the public peace. [n7] This is no more than a reaffirmation that reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on expression are constitutionally acceptable.

Contrary to the conclusion of the Court of Appeals, the foregoing analysis demonstrates that the Park Service regulation is sustainable under the four-factor standard of United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), for validating a regulation of expressive conduct, which, in the last analysis is little, if any, different from the standard applied to time, place, or manner restrictions. [n8] No one contends that, aside [p299] from its impact on speech a rule against camping or overnight sleeping in public parks is beyond the constitutional power of the Government to enforce. And for the reasons we have discussed above, there is a substantial Government interest in conserving park property, an interest that is plainly served by, and requires for its implementation, measures such as the proscription of sleeping that are designed to limit the wear and tear on park properties. That interest is unrelated to suppression of expression.

We are unmoved by the Court of Appeals' view that the challenged regulation is unnecessary, and hence invalid, because there are less speech-restrictive alternatives that could have satisfied the Government interest in preserving park lands. There is no gainsaying that preventing overnight sleeping will avoid a measure of actual or threatened damage to Lafayette Park and the Mall. The Court of Appeals' suggestions that the Park Service minimize the possible injury by reducing the size, duration, or frequency of demonstrations would still curtail the total allowable expression in which demonstrators could engage, whether by sleeping or otherwise, and these suggestions represent no more than a disagreement with the Park Service over how much protection the core parks require or how an acceptable level of preservation is to be attained. We do not believe, however, that either United States v. O'Brien or the time, place, or manner decisions assign to the judiciary the authority to replace the Park Service as the manager of the Nation's parks or endow the judiciary with the competence to judge how much protection of park lands is wise and how that level of conservation is to be attained. [n9]

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is

Reversed. [p300]

1. The Secretary is admonished to promote and regulate the use of the parks by such means as conform to the fundamental purpose of the parks, which is

to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein . . . in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

39 Stat. 535, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 1.

2. Section 50.19(e)(8), as amended, prohibits the use of certain temporary structures:

In connection with permitted demonstrations or special events, temporary structures may be erected for the purpose of symbolizing a message or meeting logistical needs such as first aid facilities, lost children areas or the provision of shelter for electrical and other sensitive equipment or displays. Temporary structures may not be used outside designated camping areas for living accommodation activities such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities. The above-listed activities constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting these activities, are in fact using the area as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging.

3. The per curiam opinion preceding the individual opinions described the lineup of the judges as follows:

Circuit Judge Mikva files an opinion, in which Circuit Judge Wald concurs, in support of a judgment reversing. Chief Judge Robinson and Circuit Judge Wright file a statement joining in the judgment and concurring in Circuit Judge Mikva's opinion with a caveat. Circuit Judge Edwards files an opinion joining in the judgment and concurring partially in Circuit Judge Mikva's opinion. Circuit Judge Ginsburg files an opinion joining in the judgment. Circuit Judge Wilkey files a dissenting opinion, in which Circuit Judges Tamm, MacKinnon, Bork and Scalia concur. Circuit Judge Scalia files a dissenting opinion, in which Circuit Judges MacKinnon and Bork concur.

227 U.S.App.D.C. at 19-20, 703 F.2d at 586-587.

4. As a threshold matter, we must address respondents' contention that their proposed activities do not fall within the definition of "camping" found in the regulations. None of the opinions below accepted this contention, and at least nine of the judges expressly rejected it. Id. at 24, 703 F.2d at 591 (opinion of Mikva, J.); id. at 42, 703 F.2d at 609 (opinion of Wilkey, J.). We likewise find the contention to be without merit. It cannot seriously be doubted that sleeping in tents for the purpose of expressing the plight of the homeless falls within the regulation's definition of camping.

5. We reject the suggestion of the plurality below, however, that the burden on the demonstrators is limited to "the advancement of a plausible contention" that their conduct is expressive. Id. at 26, n. 16, 703 F.2d at 593, n. 16. Although it is common to place the burden upon the Government to justify impingements on First Amendment interests, it is the obligation of the person desiring to engage in assertedly expressive conduct to demonstrate that the First Amendment even applies. To hold otherwise would be to create a rule that all conduct is presumptively expressive. In the absence of a showing that such a rule is necessary to protect vital First Amendment interests, we decline to deviate from the general rule that one seeking relief bears the burden of demonstrating that he is entitled to it.

6. Respondents request that we remand to the Court of Appeals for resolution of their claim that the District Court improperly granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim. Brief for Respondents 91, n. 50. They contend that there were disputed questions of fact concerning the uniformity of enforcement of the regulation, claiming that other groups have slept in the parks. The District Court specifically found that the regulations have been consistently applied and enforced in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner. App. to Pet. for Cert. 106a-108a. Only 5 of the 11 judges in the Court of Appeals addressed the equal protection claim. 227 U.S.App.D.C. at 43-44, 703 F.2d at 610-611 (opinion of Wilkey, J., joined by Tamm, MacKinnon, Bork, and Scalia, JJ.). Our review of the record leads us to agree with their conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the most that respondents have shown are isolated instances of undiscovered violations of the regulations.

7. When the Government seeks to regulate conduct that is ordinarily nonexpressive, it may do so regardless of the situs of the application of the regulation. Thus, even against people who choose to violate Park Service regulations for expressive purposes, the Park Service may enforce regulations relating to grazing animals, 36 CFR § 50.13 (1983); flying model planes, § 50.16; gambling, § 50.17; hunting and fishing, § 50.18; setting off fireworks, § 50.25(g); and urination, § 50.26(b).

8. Reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions are valid even though they directly limit oral or written expression. It would be odd to insist on a higher standard for limitations aimed at regulable conduct and having only an incidental impact on speech. Thus, if the time, place, or manner restriction on expressive sleeping, if that is what is involved in this case, sufficiently and narrowly serves a substantial enough governmental interest to escape First Amendment condemnation, it is untenable to invalidate it under O'Brien on the ground that the governmental interest is insufficient to warrant the intrusion on First Amendment concerns, or that there is an inadequate nexus between the regulation and the interest sought to be served. We note that only recently, in a case dealing with the regulation of signs, the Court framed the issue under O'Brien, and then based a crucial part of its analysis on the time, place, or manner cases. City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, 804-805, 808-810 (1984).

9. We also agree with Judge Edwards' observation that "[t]o insist upon a judicial resolution of this case, given the facts and record at hand, arguably suggests a lack of common sense." 227 U.S.App.D.C. at 33, 703 F.2d at 600. Nor is it any clearer to us than it was to him "what has been achieved by this rather exhausting expenditure of judicial resources." Id. at 34, 703 F.2d at 601.