Expression, whether oral or written or symbolized by conduct, is subject to reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions. 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.
In 1982, the National Park Service issued a permit to respondent Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) to conduct a demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall, which are National Parks in the heart of Washington, D. C. The purpose of the demonstration was to call attention to the plight of the homeless, and the permit authorized the erection of two symbolic tent cities. However, the Park Service, relying on its regulations - particularly one that permits "camping" (defined as including sleeping activities) only in designated campgrounds, no campgrounds having ever been designated in Lafayette Park or the Mall - denied CCNV's request that demonstrators be permitted to sleep in the symbolic tents. CCNV and the individual respondents then filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging, inter alia, that application of the regulations to prevent sleeping in the tents violated the First Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment for the Park Service, but the Court of Appeals reversed.
Was the application of the Park Service regulations violative of the First Amendment?
The Court held that the challenged application of the Park Service regulations did not violate the First Amendment. Assuming that overnight sleeping in connection with the demonstration was expressive conduct protected to some extent by the First Amendment, the Court determined that the regulation forbidding sleeping met the requirements for a reasonable time, place, or manner restriction of expression, whether oral, written, or symbolized by conduct. The regulation was neutral with regard to the message presented, and left open ample alternative methods of communicating the intended message concerning the plight of the homeless. Moreover, the regulation narrowly focused on the Government's substantial interest in maintaining the parks in the heart of the Capital in an attractive and intact condition, readily available to the millions of people who wish to see and enjoy them by their presence. The Court opined that to permit camping would be totally inimical to these purposes. According to the Court, the validity of the regulation need not be judged solely by reference to the demonstration at hand, and none of its provisions were unrelated to the ends that it was designed to serve. Similarly, the Court ruled that the challenged regulation was also sustainable as meeting the standards for a valid regulation of expressive conduct. The Court concluded that aside from its impact on speech, a rule against camping or overnight sleeping in public parks was not beyond the constitutional power of the Government to enforce.