ACLU Lawsuit Fights Government's Extremist Tactics In Culture War Against Raves

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
August 21, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS– Saying the government’s war on drugs has reached bizarre new extremes, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal court to prohibit the government from banning the use of glow sticks, pacifiers and masks at a rave here this weekend.

According to the ACLU complaint, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has banned symbols of rave culture such as masks, glow items, pacifiers, and vapor rub from a prominent dance venue, saying that these items constitute “drug paraphernalia.”

“”It is nonsensical to think that glow sticks and masks can be used to ingest drugs, which is how the law defines paraphernalia,”” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project. “It is time the American public realized that raves are not the havens for rampant drug use that the government has led them to believe and are in fact an established form of youth culture.””

Those named in the ACLU’s class action lawsuit include a former military man and an insurance agent whose masks and glow sticks were confiscated at an August 4 rave, and an internationally renowned performance group that faces cancellation of an act incorporating glow sticks.

Raves are electronic music concerts that the government seeks to close because some attendees use the drug Ecstasy. But that approach, Boyd said, is tantamount to shutting down rock concerts in the 1960s or jazz clubs in the 1920s because some people are using drugs.

“”The government’s ban on cultural symbols does nothing to prevent drug use, while striking at the heart of First Amendment freedoms,”” said Boyd. “”If the police want to enforce drug laws, then they should go after drug dealers, but dancing and music are protected by the Constitution.””

Earlier this year, the DEA attacked raves by suing the music promoter and concert hall manager of the State Palace Theater here, a popular dance and concert venue that frequently hosts raves. The case marked the first time that the government had used a federal “crack house” law to prosecute organizers of raves.

Although the DEA’s all-out assault on the State Palace Theater fell short of its goal of conviction, the agency is still pursuing its war against rave culture. In a plea deal put forth by the DEA, the government has forbidden all wearing of masks, glow items and pacifiers, and has banned the use of vapor rub at electronic dance events held at the theater. As a result, theater staff have been forced to censor the actions and art of its guests and artists.

Today’s lawsuit comes as a result of that plea bargain, which, the ACLU complaint said, “”embodies the government’s unconstitutional assault against the electronic music culture.””

In addition to protecting the First Amendment rights of music lovers and performance artists, the ACLU is also challenging the plea bargain’s violation of theater attendees’ right to due process and against unreasonable searches and seizures.

As described in the ACLU complaint, two guests of the State Palace Theater were subject to censorship during an event held on August 4. Michael Behan, an insurance agent who usually attends raves in his “Mr. Bunny” costume, did not bring masks or glow sticks to that event because of the ban and was prevented from entering with a hand-held massager. Clayton Smith, a former member of the United States Air Force’s prestigious Sabre Drill Team, had his glow sticks and pacifier confiscated at the August 4 event.

“As a member of the Sabre Drill Team, I incorporated dance and acrobatic movement into my routine that I would first try out on dance floors with glow sticks,” said Smith. “Although I am no longer a member of the team I still like to go to raves and try new moves. I feel it is my right to be able to do so.”

In addition, Steven McClure, the founding member of Rabbit in the Moon, an internationally renowned group that has performed numerous times at the State Palace Theater, has been warned by theater staff that his group can no longer perform in their usual costume, which incorporates glow necklaces. The group faces the cancellation of their March 2002 performance at the theater if they violate the censorship order.

“The DEA, acting as ‘Big Brother,’ has embarked on a culture crusade to ban innocent behavior at music concerts while the drug dealers take a walk,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “With these perverted priorities, the next target could be a raid on the local Walgreens to shut it down for selling masks and glow sticks.”

According to Will Patterson of the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, a group established to provide legal assistance to industry professionals targeted by government censorship of raves, the plea agreement entered in New Orleans has led many venues across the country to ban the sale of glowsticks and other items labeled as paraphernalia.

“In effect,”” he said, “”the government has curtailed the growth of an increasingly popular form of entertainment and has also hampered the companies that manufacture and sell these items at raves.”

The ACLU’s complaint in today’s lawsuit is online at

A copy of the brief is available online at

An ACLU news release and legal documents concerning the use of the federal “”crackhouse law”” against the State Palace Theater is online at

EMDEF is online at

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