Bradbury Museum Arrests


July 9, 1997

Federico Peña, Secretary 
The United States Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20585

RE:  Arrests at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Bradbury Science Museum

Dear Secretary Peña:

Nine members and supporters of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) await trial on criminal trespassing charges for peacefully handing out leaflets (in some cases, these were simply copies of the Bill of Rights) to museum visitors outside the Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL's) Bradbury Science Museum.  The genesis of the arrests warrants some explanation. 

The Museum, a Department of Energy-funded, public educational institution, for which nearly 130,000 annual visitors are claimed, willingly mounted LASG's anti-nuclear exhibit from the museum's opening in April 1993 until the fall of 1995, and then, in abridged form, until February of this year.  LASG was, for more than two years, granted a wall twenty feet long and twelve feet high for its exhibit, following a court battle in California which gave to antinuclear dissenters the right to a proportionally-comparable amount of space in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL's) Visitor's Center.  We willingly and temporarily gave up half this space to a pro-nuclear organization in Los Alamos during the late summer and fall of 1995, the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima.  At that time Museum management took back half the wall it had previously granted to us and then subsequently eliminated all space set aside for dissent, in favor of a "lottery" system that the Laboratory management hoped would pit pro-nuclear Lab supporters against the dissenting public.  We did and do not believe the lottery is either necessary (since there has been no competition for dissenting wall space), fair, or reasonable.  We do believe, along with many others, that the inclusion of LASG's dissenting viewpoint provided an important complement to the Museum's pro-nuclear weapons message for visitors, enhancing the Museum experience for visitors.  It was, simply put, an asset to the Department and the Lab.

Following the eviction of the Study Group from its space and subsequent failure to reach an acceptable compromise with Museum management for re-installation, members of LASG undertook peaceful leafleting.  The resulting arrests ordered by the Laboratory are the latest chapter in the needless conflict between the Study Group and the Museum over the loss of exhibit space and free speech in general.  Prior to 1995, when the Museum injected itself into the friendly negotiations between LASG and the pro-nuclear group, there was no conflict -- although some influential persons in Los Alamos did not agree with our exhibit.

The Laboratory maintains that the Bradbury Museum, unlike the LLNL Visitor Center, and despite the implications of its own formal mission statement, is not a public forum for First Amendment purposes and so may prohibit any and all free speech on its grounds, whether that speech is passive (exhibits) or active (leafleting), whether that speech is welcomed by roughly half the Museum visitors (as was our exhibit, evidenced by comments written by visitors), and whether that speech is disruptive or not, as has been the case.  Quite apart from the public forum issue, recent Supreme Court decisions have emphasized that government must show an affirmative need to regulate free speech activity, which cannot be shown in the case of our leafleting.  This aside, we believe the museum is a quintessential public forum with no absolute right to block First Amendment activity, either as exhibits or as the peaceful distribution of leaflets inside or outside the Museum, as long as these activities do not interfere with Museum visitation or operation.  We note that, in the LLNL case, the court awarded not only exhibit space but also the freedom to use the auditorium and projection facilities on the premises on a regular basis.

We implore you to look into this matter and then encourage Laboratory management to provide exhibit, auditorium, and leafleting access to the museum at once.  In 1992, we had such access.  Today, we do not.  Enclosed are a few copies of press accounts of the exhibit controversy and recent arrests, with some background information.

Very truly yours,

Greg Mello,
Executive Director 

cc: Senator Jeff Bingaman
Senator Pete Dominici
Congressman Bill Redmond
John Rhoades

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