Arlington, Va.—In a decision released Friday, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that government officials may protect the financial interests of a local rafting cartel by forbidding a popular Christian summer camp from continuing its 31-year tradition of safe whitewater rafting. Although the camp argued that the state constitution does not allow the government to curtail liberty simply to make connected insiders better off, the Court pointedly refused to consider the camp’s constitutional arguments.
“Apparently, Pennsylvanians cannot rely on their Constitution when the government suppresses their freedom simply to increase the profits of favored private businesses,” said Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm representing the camp. “Excluding the camp from rafting is about the financial interests of four commercial outfitters.”
During argument in the case in April, the attorney for the state frankly admitted to the Court, “We have complete control over the four outfitters…and we get a piece of the action.”
For more than 30 years, the non-profit, non-denominational group, Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SB2W), located about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh in Boswell, Pa., led campers down the storied Lower Youghiogheny whitewater in Ohiopyle State Park as a way to teach courage, teamwork, self-reliance, faith in God, and respect for nature. In 2001, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) withdrew its longstanding permission for SB2W’s annual rafting trips on the Lower “Yough,” demanding instead that the camp either hire Ohiopyle’s cartel of four commercial outfitters or stay off the river entirely. In 2006, the camp teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file suit, seeking to declare unconstitutional the DCNR’s arbitrary denial of SB2W’s freedom to raft.
“Summer’s Best Two Weeks has an outstanding safety record, and all we want to do is what we’ve always done: safely and peacefully raft the river,” said Kent Biery, the camp’s executive director. “This unfortunate ruling denies our campers the powerful sense of accomplishment and lifelong memories that have been an integral part of our program for more than 30 years. We’re resolved to find a solution that allows our campers to get back on the river.”
The Institute for Justice is analyzing today’s decision closely and will work with Summer’s Best Two Weeks to determine the best manner in which to proceed.
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought arbitrary and unnecessary regulations. These cases include the landmark legal battle to advance the American ideal of economic liberty when, on May 16, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory state shipping laws that hampered small wineries as well as their consumers. IJ also secured the first federal appeals court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal and, most recently, filed suit in Philadelphia to strike down a new regulation that makes it illegal for tour guides to talk about the Liberty Bell without first getting the government’s permission.