Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Examples of First Amendment under attack in America

This is to be considered an update and amendment to my previous blog. In it I made general statements about the direction of restrictions on assembly and speech in the US -- well, it turns out the picture is quite a lot more complicated than I imagined, and in some cases considerably more frightening. Here's some specific examples:

Pleasantville, New Jersey had as of May 2003 a parade ordinance that required a permit for a parade or procession of any kind, which had to be approved by the mayor AND the chief of police, and which required demonstrators to obtain expensive insurance. Failure to abide by this could result in fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail. There was also no limit placed on the discretion of the mayor or police chief to approve or deny the permit. See page 11.

West Virginians (now Texans) Jeffrey and Nicole Rank, and Coloradans Alex Young and Leslie Weise filed a lawsuit in June 2007 with the aid of the ACLU against Gregory Jenkins, the Director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance, for violating their civil rights. In July 2004 the Ranks entered a Bush campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia that was open to the public and removed shirts revealing an antiwar symbol. They were immediately arrested and put in jail on a charge of trespassing -- remember, this was a public assembly. After they were fingerprinted and booked the charges were dismissed and they were released. Following that, in March 2005 Young and Weise went to see President Bush speak in Denver on Social Security, with no intent to do anything but go to the event and listen to the speech. They had gotten tickets through proper channels, and were never told that persons with opinions contrary to the President's views would be unwelcome.

But when Weise went into the event through a different entrance than Young, she was taken aside by staff members and told to wait for someone from the Secret Service. Young passed his security check and was seated. Meanwhile a White House staff member named Michael Casper came and told Leslie Weise she had been "ID'd" and told her that if she tried any "funny stuff" she'd be arrested. Why? Because they had found a bumper sticker on the back of Weise's car that read "No More Blood For Oil." Anyway, after that chilling warning they allowed Ms. Weise and a friend with her to go in and sit. But, Casper went to consult with two people from Gregory Jenkin's office, and they told him to expel both Weise and Young, whereupon both them and their friends with them were shoved out the door none too politely.

That incident is legally documented here: , and an article about the resolution won by the Ranks can be read here: . And you can read page 8 of to find out how our highest elected official in the land avoids hearing anyone who is against his point of view during public appearances.

A Pennsylvania man named Bill Neel, an opponent of President Bush's policies, has encountered "free speech zones" several times since 2001, finding it virtually impossible to approach a Presidential appearance as an opposing peaceable demonstrator without being herded away out of sight of the President and his supporters every time he has tried, and finally getting arrested after protesting the very concept of "free speech zone" to the Allegheny Police at a protest of Bush, well outside of a Presidential speech. You can read about it here: .

And there was a man named Michael Tocher, who was arrested by the Santa Barbara, California police for disturbing the peace after reading 400 of the then 1200 names of those killed in the Iraq War into a megaphone on Veteran's Day, 2004, what he intended as a gesture of respect to our nation's fallen heroes. The lawsuit arising from this case ended up costing the city $17,000 in damages payable to Mr. Tocher and Santa Barbara is now required to exercise constitutional caution before arresting anyone conducting an assembly. Why aren't all cities, states, and the Federal Government required to do so? You can read about that here: .

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