First Amendment scandals. Ever hear of them?
By Steve Bergstein
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I once wrote that no one ever talks about a First Amendment scandal the way that we talk about sex scandals or bribery or other abuses of the public trust. There is no such thing as a First Amendment scandal. But First Amendment scandals happen all the time. We just don't hear about them.
Few people really care about free speech. We talk the talk, but we don't really want to hear from others who disagree with us. If you have money you can buy off the printing press and shut down opposing voices. If you have power you can get the police to arrest dissenters. And if you're a librarian who wants to go to a John McCain campaign rally with a sign that reads "McCain = Bush" then you can go screw yourself.
Watch this video two or three times. Notice how calm and controlled the sign-woman is. She can't believe she is about to be arrested for trespassing for carrying a political sign into property that was partially paid for by taxpayers. The event was open to the public, but she was escorted from the property and ginen a court date. This is what I call a First Amendment scandal. It happened at a McCain event, and as far as I'm concerned, McCain is partly responsible for this.
According to the Denver Post, "Jenny Schiavone, a spokeswoman for the performing arts center, said the venue is city-owned rental property, but is not legally defined as public property." I'm not sure what this woman means, but it sounds like legal mumbo-jumbo. Of course the local paper covered this, but the the media ignores these stories.
Something like this happened in my neck of the woods. An activist group was kicked out of a public park in May 2008 when they tried to bring protest signs and flyers into an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. I am representing these people in court. Here's a video of what happened:
There will always be some argument that speech like this is not appropriate, or that it's not the right time or place. But it's never the "right" time to ask questions, if you go along to get along. Allowing the police to escort us from public property because we have an opposing point of view means this country is becoming a very different place.