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Columbia 'Occupiers' Sue For Right To Camp At Statehouse


Protesters on lawn of South Carolina Statehouse. Protesters in the Occupy movement will be in a Columbia courtroom Thursday morning arguing that it's their First Amendment right to camp out on the South Carolina statehouse lawn. Governor Nikki Haley has vowed to fight them. You need permission to be on South Carolina's statehouse grounds after 6 p.m., which the Occupy Columbia protesters and their dozen-or-so tents certainly don't have. But when Governor Nikki Haley ordered 19 of them arrested for trespassing a week and a half ago, the protesters sued. They argue the arrests violate their constitutional right to free speech and assembly. A judge said the protesters may have a point and allowed them to keep camping on statehouse grounds until the case could be heard in court on December 1. Governor Haley is none-to-pleased. "We don't allow homeless people to so much as lay down on a bench," said Haley at a press conference on Monday. "We can't go and allow a group to just break the rules like that. And what is unfortunate is now you have a judge that is not only saying 'Don't follow the rules, doesn't matter about the laws, oh and by the way bring your tents and pitch them up.' It's wrong and we're gonna fight it every step of the way." Occupy Columbia protester Shaw Mitchell says the only reason homeless people weren't allowed to sleep on statehouse grounds is "because they didn't have lawyers." "We have lawyers and we believe the First Amendment is our permit for being on this public space," says Mitchell. Governor Haley says the protesters are an eyesore, damage the statehouse lawn and use the flowerbeds as a toilet. She says the protest has cost more than $17,000 in police overtime. Mitchell says the governor has provided no proof of her allegations and adds the campers are moving their tents daily to keep from damaging the grass. The case will be heard at 9 a.m. Thursday by Richland County Judge Alison Lee.