A new fence erected this week at the Y-12 National Security Complex allegedly violates their First Amendment rights, and a coalition that includes the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance wants the federal government to remove it before an annual spring demonstration on Saturday.
In a complaint filed Wednesday, the coalition also asks the U.S. District Court in Knoxville to deny the government from ever blocking a small area near the plant’s main entrance. That area includes a grassy field and small parking lot near the green Y-12 sign at the intersection of Bear Creek and Scarboro roads, and it has been used for protests and vigils for about 25 years.
The National Nuclear Security Administration announced plans to erect the fence along Scarboro Road last week, citing three trespassing incidents involving five people in the past year, including the July 28 security breach. Workers started setting up a temporary version of the fence on Monday.
But the plaintiffs argued it violates their freedom of speech, right to assemble, and right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
“Given the location of the barricade/fence, the timing of its placement, and the fact that the Plaintiffs for months have planned a demonstration of their First Amendment rights on Saturday, April 6, 2013, it is obvious that the clear intent of the defendants is to prevent the plaintiffs from exercising their rights under the First Amendment,” the lawsuit said.
Steven Wyatt, NNSA spokesman in Oak Ridge, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs said the area is a public forum, and it has been used for more than 700 gatherings since 1988 without any restrictions on time, place, and manner. There has been no violence by members of OREPA, which opposes Y-12’s nuclear weapons work.
The lawsuit said the federal government would control access to a proposed new protest area at the New Hope Center, which can be used for public events but will also be enclosed by the new fence. But the application process to use the New Hope Center is onerous, the plaintiffs said. It requires a formal application and a $500 bond seven days before any gathering, as well as evidence of $1 million in liability insurance.
“Plaintiffs would show that the claim of security is simply a disguise to prevent lawful—and what have been peaceful—demonstrations, vigils, and other public meetings in the triangle public forum,” the lawsuit said.
The plaintiffs said the government could improve security at Y-12 by replacing the existing barbed-wire fence, which is set back farther from Scarboro Road, with an eight-foot-high fence.
“In other words, the defendants’ interest in constraining illegal entry into Y-12 on foot can easily and fully be satisfied without infringing on the long established public assembly space,” the lawsuit said.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are federal officials at the NNSA and U.S. Department of Energy, including NNSA Acting Administrator Neile L. Miller and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Note: This story was last updated at 9:10 a.m.