IJ Argues Case for Summer Camp

June 1, 2008

IJ Argues Case for Summer Camp

For 31 years, Summer’s Best Two Weeks, a non-denominational Christian summer camp in southwestern Pennsylvania, rafted the storied whitewater in Ohiopyle State Park. For the camp, which never had an accident, rafting was a cherished rite of passage that 15,000 kids had shared over the years.

Then, in 2001, the Bureau of State Parks kicked the kids off the river because government-licensed commercial outfitters wanted to force the camp to pay for the outfitters’ services. The camp refuses, however, because the outfitters are demonstrably less safe, operate in a morally unacceptable way to the faith-based camp and are too expensive.

The camp got its day in court in early April when IJ Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes argued to a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania that the Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow the government to interfere with liberty just to supply private businesses with customers.

Remarkably, the attorney for the state freely admitted what was going on: “We have complete control over the four outfitters . . . and we get a piece of the action,” he said, referring to the government’s sizeable cut of the outfitters’ gross. He also suggested that the government had camper safety at heart, but the Court met this with skepticism because the camp has a far safer history of running the rapids than anyone, including the outfitters. No camper in the camp’s long history of rafting the river has ever suffered serious injury, while a number of the commercial outfitters’ clients have died.

In his closing remarks, Rowes summed things up for the judges: “[The government] needlessly ended a genuine Pennsylvania tradition that has taught courage, teamwork, leadership, faith and good citizenship” to thousands of young people, just to sweep money into the hands of the outfitters.

IJ hopes to get a favorable decision in time to get the camp on the river this summer.

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