Local peace demonstrators returned a delivery from the post office last week saying it had been misdirected.

It took a while, but eventually the postmaster agreed.

The saga began in early May when a maintenance worker ordered an assembly of peace advocates off Astoria post office property. The group of anywhere between two and 20 demonstrators had been gathering quietly every Friday evening since February on the east post office lawn.

But twice last month, as the group convened, a postal employee directed them to leave, explaining he had orders from the postmaster.

Each time the group, which asserts its actions have always been peaceful, readily complied by moving to a nearby sidewalk.

However the second time around, the orders caused some to question whether federal property was no longer protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"I was mostly in disbelief," said Megan Casebourn, who's been a regular at the weekly gathering. "The question suddenly was 'what is public property?' The First Amendment says we have a right to assemble."

The Daily Astorian contacted Astoria Postmaster Kevin Romeyn to inquire whether the demonstrators had a legal right to stay. Twice, Romeyn declined to comment.

But after checking with the U.S. Post Office's legal department in Denver, Colo., he conceded that the group was within its constitutional bounds.

"All we did was ask them to move to the sidewalk. It was a simple request," he eventually said. "There was no intent to infringe on anyone's rights."

Romeyn acknowledged that as long as the group was not causing property destruction or impeding the traffic of customers, they - like others, over the years, who have gathered at the post office for a variety of causes - would be permitted to stand on the lawn.

"There are rules here ... but we'll try to be more flexible in the future," he said.

Prior to Romeyn's admission, some members of the group said they were given the impression that the messages they were promoting - which include a peaceful response to terrorism and a raised awareness of the world's proliferation of nuclear weapons - were simply unwelcome.

"What we want to know is, 'who is and who isn't allowed on the property?'" said demonstrator Sue Skinner. "I mean, would someone be able to sit down and eat their lunch there?" she asked.

Although Romeyn asserted he wasn't aware of just what their message was, he, to the surprise of demonstrators, admitted that he didn't want to be affiliated with the group.

"I just didn't want to give the impression that we condone or support whatever it is they're doing," he said.

But, again, he acknowledged that the group had a right to stay under the law.

Coincidentally, the local postmaster's concession Friday arrived within hours of an even broader boost to the First Amendment.

A federal appeals court Friday struck down a 30-year-old ban keeping demonstrators from the U.S. House and Senate entrances to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The ban had been in place for "security measures," which have further multiplied since last year's terrorist attacks. But the three-judge panel declared "the entire demonstration ban unconstitutional."

"In the atmosphere we live in today, this is a tremendous affirmation of the First Amendment principle," Robert Lederman told the Washington Post. Lederman was the New York City artist and activist whose 1997 arrest at the Senate entrance sparked the suit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If you can protest on the sidewalk of the Capitol, then you should be able to protest at government buildings around the country," he said.