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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Court Allows Rule Banning Overnight Protests At Capitol

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network

A Thursday ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court gives the Oregon legislature the right to ban protesters from using the capitol steps overnight.

The case in question involved anti-war protesters speaking out against the deployment of Oregon National Guard troops to Iraq and Afghanistan back in 2009

Some of the protesters were arrested for trespassing when they refused to leave the front steps of the Oregon capitol overnight. They were accused of ignoring a new rule that banned demonstrations at the capitol between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless the legislature is in session.

The ACLU of Oregon took on the case as a free speech issue. Their attorneys argued that other groups had been allowed to use the capitol grounds overnight.

The ACLU's David Fidanque said legislative leaders cracked down because they didn't like the protester's message.

"We believe the rules were adopted to prevent this type of demonstration and in particular to end this particular demonstration," he said.

The Oregon Supreme Court said a ban on overnight demonstrations at the capitol does not violate free speech rights. But the court did say there was a question about whether the legislature had been selective about applying the rule to the anti-war protesters. And theoretically, legislative leaders could be asked to testify about whether they hand in enforcing the rule.