No right is absolute and with every right comes responsibilities. The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out – but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here – the First Amendment protects speech – it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.
Here is where and why that is wrong -
1. The First Amendment reads, in full, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Clearly, the right "peaceaby to assemble," a right which is distinct from free speech, is listed as a separate right, co-equal with speech and press. Bloomberg's statement unsurprisingly missed that.
2. The rights in the First Amendment are indeed absolute - "no law" means just that, "no law". A law about tents not allowed in parks would be precisely the kind of law not allowed by the First Amendment.
3. Although Bloomberg doesn't address this, the 14th Amendment extends the restriction on Congress in the 1st Amendment to all forms of local government in the United States. New York City, Oakland, Portland OR, all the cities which have been Occupied are no exception.
4. Bloomberg's contempt for the First Amendment is also obvious in the way the clearing of Zuccotti Park was conducted - with media deliberately prevented from covering the news. In that action, Bloomberg is flagrantly violating the freedom of press provision of the First Amendment.
In sum, Mayor Bloomberg's expressed comprehension of the First Amendment is less than I would expect from an introductory class of students at Fordham University where I teach. I look forward to the courts setting this misguided and dangerous billionaire Mayor straight.
For Bloomberg's complete statement, see AlterNet.
Note added 5pm, Nov 15: First Judge to hear case just sided with Bloomberg, ruling protesters have a right to speech but not to assemble in tents. I expect this ruling to be overturned by higher courts.
my interview of NY Night News about this
Occupy Wall Street Chronicles, Part 1