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  • Courtesy screen shot

    This screenshot shows Jonathan Doyle dressed like Bigfoot on Mount Monadnock. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that Doyle was within his rights to make a Bigfoot video on Mount Monadnock without a state permit because it constitutes a "traditional public forum" where free speech is protected.
Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bigfoot has free speech rights in NH, too – on Mount Monadnock, at least

It’s OK to make a goofy film about Bigfoot on Mount Monadnock without a state permit despite New Hampshire regulations, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

But that’s only because the peak in Jaffrey is so well known that it constitutes “a traditional public forum,” where free speech is especially protected.

That ruling was handed down Friday morning in the much publicized case of Jonathan Doyle, a self-described performance artist who in September 2009 walked around the bustling peak of Mount Monadnock wearing a $40 Bigfoot costume and videotaped interviews with hikers describing their sightings of him.

He put the video on YouTube and drew some attention. But when Doyle, 31, of Keene, returned to make a follow-up video, staff at Monadnock State Park said he needed a state permit to film a movie in the park.

The permit required a $100 fee and a $2 million insurance policy that covers the state of New Hampshire. It had to be applied for at least 30 days in advance.

Doyle sued, saying the requirement was an unconstitutional limit on his freedom of speech, and he promptly drew a whole lot more attention.

The case went to the state Supreme Court, which agreed with Doyle.

It said the permit requirement by the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) violated the right to free speech because of its blanket nature.

Free speech “does not permit such a panoptic regulation because, far from being narrowly tailored, it applies in numerous circumstances that have no relation to DRED’s significant interests,” the court ruled.

However, the ruling concludes: “Our holding today, however, is a narrow one. It rests on the assumption that Mount Monadnock is a traditional public forum. … We note that it is possible that the regulation at issue here could be permissible as applied to DRED properties that are not traditional public forums, and that in any event DRED may adopt regulations consistent with the right to free speech, which will require DRED to take into account the character of the property it regulates.”

The ruling also repeats an urban legend about Monadnock, although with jurisprudential caution: “Mount Monadnock is said to be the second most climbed mountain in the world,” it notes.

Mount Fuji in Japan is generally said to be the most often climbed mountain when this claim is made.

The claim is impossible to fact-check because nobody keeps tallies of how many people climb various mountains, but it’s widely regarded as, at best, an exaggeration. Nonetheless, the 3,165-foot Mount Mondadnock is almost certainly the most frequently climbed mountain over 3,000 feet tall in New Hampshire, and probably in New England, if not the U.S.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or