The so=called Rainbow Family is flouting a US Forest Service regulation that requires a permit for any noncommercial group of more than 75 people to use a national forest, according to the lawsuit filed in Jacksonville by the US Justice Department.
The forest service adopted the rule in Sept 1995 to address public safety and health concerns and better allocate space among park users, according to the lawsuit.
But rainbow member - who go by names such as Butterfly, Two Bears, and Bullwinkle - say the rule infringes on their First Amendment rights to free speech and peacable assembly.
"It's a joke. The whole problem is they're trying to stop us from exercising our consitutional rights. The forest service wants to make the national parks into tree museums," said Bullwinkle.
Group members say they have been harassed by park rangers and local authorities, who have set up roadblocks outside their encampment. They come from all over the United States to sing, eat and meditate as a group. They have gathered before in the Ocala National Forest with no problems.
The justice department seeks a ruling on the constitutionality of the forest service regulation and a injunction stopping the gathering. Ahearing date had not been set as of thursday afternoon.
Assistant US Attorney Brian Kane in Jacksonville and Thomas Millet in Washington declined comment, citing pending litigation.
The lawsuit names 25 rainbows who have identified themselves to forest service officers with driver's licenses or aliases. Those named include Wakeem, who identified himself as the one in charge of alcohol use; Butterfly, in charge of the "granola funk kitchen", Adam, who runs the "Welcome Home" or parking area; Jose, who oversees the digging of latrines; and Bob Jones, and older family member.
Forest Ranger Keith Lawrence met in early February with five to six group members and gave each of them a printed notice of the rule, according to the lawsuit. Park workers also posted copies of the rule around the gathering site and along the park's entrance.
The gathering exceeded 75 people the first week on February, but the Rainbows have yet to apply for a permit and are not expected to, the lawsuit alleges.
The "1995 Rainbow Guide" says, "We do not sign permits or agreements with the government."
The justice department wants to group to pay the costs of the civil action and face contempt of court sanctions for refusing to follow the permit rule.