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Great Old Broads for Wilderness Asserts Right to Freedom of Speech

Great Old Broads for Wilderness and 14 other conservation organizations have signed on to an amicus brief filed May 4 in support of the organization’s former associate director, Rose Chilcoat. She has been targeted for criminal prosecution due to her association with Great Old Broads for Wilderness and her work to advocate for healthy public lands in San Juan County.

The organizations have signed on to support the defense team’s petition to review Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision to bind Chilcoat and her husband, Mark Franklin, over for trial, asserting that criminal prosecution based on her views and organizational affiliation and Franklin’s association with his wife is a serious infringement to their First Amendment rights.

If allowed to stand, this case would have a profound effect on free speech and association throughout San Juan County and could set a dangerous precedent for Americans across the country who advocate for clean air, clean water, and healthy public lands.

The amicus brief states, “The County went to great lengths to highlight both Great Old Broads for Wilderness’ advocacy for public land stewardship, and Ms. Chilcoat’s connection to that organization, in an effort to establish criminal intent.” The District Court accepted this rationale, denying the defense’s Motion to Quash the bindover for trial.

The charges filed against Chilcoat and Franklin are based on an incident that occurred on state trust lands within San Juan County. Franklin closed a gate to a corral, and the county filed multiple felony charges against the couple, including “attempted wanton destruction of livestock,” despite the fact that responding law enforcement assessed that “no harm was done” and that the rancher who reported the incident acknowledged that the cattle were not prevented from reaching water inside the corral because a section of the fence was down.

Great Old Broads for Wilderness is devoted to protecting and preserving America’s public lands and waters. Basing these malicious and overtly harsh charges on Rose’s activities as a conservationist is an outrageous infringement of her First Amendment rights. Additionally, for nearly 30 years, our organization has worked with agencies that manage public lands livestock grazing allotments to be sure that permit holders adhere to agency guidelines and use practices that are not harmful to watershed and riparian areas, wildlife habitat, and the overall health of the lands. In San Juan County, government officials and residents have expressed hostility towards the organization in a number of disturbing ways, which seems out of step since a majority of Americans are proponents of clean air and water and healthy wild lands.

Organizations signed on to the amicus brief include Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Advocates for the West, Alliance for a Better Utah, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, the Sierra Club, Torrey House Press, the Western Watersheds Project, Wild Earth Guardians, the Wild Utah Project, Wilderness Watch, Wildlands Defense, and the Wildlands Network.

“Western Watersheds Project has been successful in beating back state laws in Idaho and Wyoming that suppress the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” said Erik Molvar, executive director with the Western Watersheds Project. “We are hopeful that the Utah judicial system will similarly squelch San Juan County’s bizarre and unjustifiable attack on Americans visiting their public lands.”

“The First Amendment issues in this case are particularly troubling for us as a publisher, member of the conservation community, and part of the rich cultural life in southern Utah,” said Kirsten Johanna Allen, publisher and editorial director for Torrey House Press.

“As has been often said, our government is one of laws, not of men,” said Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy council for Alliance for a Better Utah. “The justice system should operate free from the political whims or prejudices of any one person or community. We fervently hope this brief will remind the court of the importance of the constitutional rights implicated in this matter. Without regard to the rest of the case, simply belonging to an environmental group engaged in peaceful activity should not be the basis for which someone is brought to trial.”

“Targeting Rose for criminal prosecution is meant to threaten anyone who speaks up for public lands and the environment in San Juan County,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This county cabal has a history of flouting the law to plunder public lands, but now they want to put people in prison. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. We’ll do everything we can to support Rose and Great Old Broads.”

Great Old Broads for Wilderness is a national grassroots organization, led by women, that engages and inspires activism to preserve and protect wilderness and wild lands. Conceived by older women who love wilderness, Great Old Broads for Wilderness gives voice to the millions of older Americans who want to protect their public lands as wilderness for this and future generations. The organization brings knowledge, commitment, and humor to the movement to protect our last wild places on earth.

Article by Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness originally appeared here.

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