Camp officials to seek court intervention
Citing First Amendment violations, representatives of a controversial retreat center will file an injunction in United States Federal Court against Leavenworth County within the next 30 days.
On Thursday, Oct. 25, the Leavenworth County Commission denied Camp Gaea, a 160-acre camp 10 miles north of Tonganoxie, renewal of a special-use permit.
"We will be filing an injunction against the county hopefully within the next 30 days," said John Pearse, president of Earth Rising Inc., a corporation that owns Camp Gaea.
Since camp representatives will cite First Amendment violations in the injunction, the case will be heard on the federal level.
The camp has been a source of controversy in recent weeks due to a community backlash regarding events that have taken place at the camp recently.
In the past, the camp has hosted such groups as the Midwest Male Naturist Gathering, a nudist gathering, and the Heartland Pagan Festival.
On Monday, Oct. 29, the Camp Gaea board of directors met with their attorney to discuss their next legal recourse following the county commissioner's decision.
Pearse said the decision to pursue the injunction was made at the Monday night meeting and that the American Civil Liberties Union could handle the case.
"We have been in contact with them and they have expressed an interest," Pearse said. "We are continuing to talk to them about helping us with the abridgement of our First Amendment rights."
Since Earth Rising Inc. is a non-profit organization, Pearse said the group would also be starting a defense fund.
The decision to deny the permit could not have been an easy one for the commissioners. During the Thursday meeting, the commission heard from several people that were in favor of the camp as well as opposed to it.
During the meeting, several county residents questioned camp activities saying they were ripe for illegal sexual activities such as pedophilia and sodomy.
Leavenworth County resident Beth Hecht, who owns property near the camp, said she was morally opposed to the camp.
"Shouldn't I have a right to choose if my child is exposed to these kinds of lifestyles," Hecht said.
Leavenworth resident Mike Stieben said he thought the camp went against "traditional American values" and violated Kansas state sodomy laws.
"It is an important decision and I hope you make the right decision," Stieben said to the commissioners.
The allegations of illegal activity were never substantiated and were denied by camp representatives.
"I am disappointed in the innuendo and intolerance that I am hearing in opposition to my client," Camp Gaea attorney Robin Martinez said. "My client will not condone any illegal activity."
After hearing the commissioners determination, several former and current camp residents said the decision was an injustice to all.
"You witnessed the death of the constitution today," said Evelyn Welk, a practicing pagan. "We are dying across the waters to insure freedom and in the middle of the country we are watching our freedom being smashed by county governments."
"I was surprised that they could not pay attention to the laws," Camp Gaea caretaker Wanda Roths said. "What they came up with was based on rumors and were not true."
The decision by the county commission is the second setback the camp has faced in Leavenworth County.
On Oct. 10, the Leavenworth Planning Commission recommended the camp be denied the special use permit.
After the Planning Commission decision, the ACLU sent a letter to the county commission stating that a "patent violation of the rights guaranteed to the applicant" had occurred.
County Commissioner Joe Daniels was the only member to vote to approve the permit.
Daniels said he thought a county ban on public nudity would shore up any moral objections to the camp.
However, county commissioners Don Navinsky and Bob Adams thought differently and both voted against permit renewal.
" When I make a decision I make it for the best of all," Adams said. "I have made a pledge to the people of Leavenworth County to make this a better place for them to work, live and raise their family."
Although the decision disturbed camp supporters, Pearse said the fight to keep the camp open was not over.
"We are talking about communities that have hid because they were afraid but this is not over and we are not packing up," Pearse said.