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Court ruling allows Occupy protesters to restore tent city in Idaho

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - The Occupy movement, which withered after clampdowns on protest encampments in U.S. cities, may now legally erect a tent city in Idaho after a federal court order barred the state from enforcing a ban, citing free speech rights, an attorney for protesters said on Thursday.

    The ruling by a U.S. judge in Boise on Wednesday caps a two-year fight between Idaho officials and Occupy Boise protesters over a tent encampment they created near the state capitol in 2012 before being evicted under a hastily crafted measure approved by lawmakers that barred camping on state property.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and others on behalf of Occupy Boise, contending the camping measure and another rule limiting protests to seven days were unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill last year found the camping ban violated constitutional guarantees of free speech and on Wednesday issued a permanent injunction blocking the state from removing protest tents because such an action “targets political speech for suppression.”

    The state had argued unsuccessfully that Occupy Boise’s request for the injunction on enforcement of the camping ban was moot since the legislature had earlier this year retracted the seven-day limit on protests and other restrictions.

    A spokesman for Otter said on Thursday the state was considering its legal options.

    Although the tent city outside the former Ada County Courthouse in Boise, which sits directly across from the capitol, has long been disbanded, Occupy Boise protesters may decide to erect another camp to underscore their freedom to do so, said Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho.

    “They may restore the tent city. The point is, the court found Occupy Boise was exercising its legal right to protest on state property,” he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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