Generally speaking, I’m a tolerant, live-and-let-live, kind of guy. But there are four types of people that drive me nuts: libertarians, hippies, bad dancers, and folks who pull goofy stunts in public for attention.

So you can imagine my dismay when on midnight April 12, 2008, the eve of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, a group of eighteen libertarian hippies donned iPods and danced inside the Jefferson Memorial . The Man—in the form of a National Park Service officer—told them to stop the tomfoolery (he may have also told them to wash their hair and get a real job (i.e., stop interning at Cato) but the news reports don’t say). The leader of the hippies, Mary Oberwetter, refused to stop that awkward gyrating they call dancing and was arrested, though the charges were later dropped (The Man is getting squishy).

Instead of being grateful for the leniency, Oberwetter sued the Park Service last year claiming that the very reason the First Amendment was added to the Constitution was to protect libertarian hippies who like to dance a jig in front of statutes at midnight (or something like that).

Fortunately, the courts disagreed. As Eugene Volokh explains in, Oberwetter v. Hilliard (aka, Hippie v. The Man ), the court concluded that:


  1. the Jefferson Memorial qualified as a “nonpublic forum” for First Amendment purposes, so that restrictions on speech there were constitutional if they were viewpoint-neutral and reasonable, and

  2. the limitation on conduct in the Memorial “which involve[s] the communication or expression . . . [and] has the effect, intent or propensity to draw a crowd or onlookers” was indeed viewpoint-neutral and reasonable.


I’m not sure what is viewpoint-neutral about libertarian hippie dancing, but I’m not going to complain about the outcome of the ruling.

(Note: There is a rumor that Mary Oberwetter is the same person as Brooke Oberwetter , but I don’t see how that is possible. Brooke is clean-cut, has a job, and is originally from Dallas,  so there is no way she can be a hippie.)

Articles by Joe Carter

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