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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.  


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Originally posted to eric francis on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 04:40 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As I have pointed out before (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldskooldem

    Homemade signs are almost never allowed at any event of any kind for any candidate and that candidates can and do reserve the right to remove any signs for any reasons.  All candidates, democrat and Republican.  I do not think there is much ground to get McCain on here.

    •  Ain't that America. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tung sol

      There is no Them, there is only US. -Lisa Williams

      by DSinIA on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 04:50:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  and.... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MadRuth, Wee Mama, nanobubble, DSinIA

      "homemade" has what, exactly, to do with this?

      Oh, is that the way we dismiss the whole concept of a "first amendment scandal": that the sign this woman was arrested over wasn't put together by a printer with a large contract to supply signs to a politician?

      OMG, yes--the diarist nails it. What a different place this America has become.  

      On second thought , let's not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place

      by o the umanity on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 05:14:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Homemade (0+ / 0-)

        is what campaign kill with impunity.  Its not pretty enough, its not on message, its not photogenic.  The homemade signs you see at campaigns with the printed ones?  Made by interns.  Do you not go to ralles?  Why is this such a shock to you guys?  Obama's campaign, Edward's campaign, I would bet Kucinich and Nader's campaign do this.

    •  This video (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      iRobert

      tells me the police were trying hard to do their job and the rabble rousers on the other side were trying to skirt the law.  Freedom of assembly isn't absolute.  Police are allowed to make reasonable laws to keep the peace.  The standard way this is enforced is by giving opposition a designated protest zone.  It looked like the police were just trying to enforce this.  Frankly, the protestors seemed violent--I'm surprised they weren't arrested.

      "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." --Barack Obama, June, 2008

      by oldskooldem on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 06:27:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah, so... (0+ / 0-)

      if she tried to enter the event, instead of just standing outside, they inform her at the door that she must leave the sign outside or not enter.

      No cause for arresting her just for standing outside.

      I have attended an Obama event, and that's how it worked there -- stand in line with whatever signs you want, but can't bring them inside.

      My password is: "transparency" This is a communal account. Everyone may play, few will win!

      by nanobubble on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 06:58:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Didn't the man in the Jewish demonstration (4+ / 0-)

    say they had a permit?  If so, the police had no right to make them move or cease and desist.  "Right now, I'm the law" seems to be the modus operandi for whomever is wearing the badge.  

    This didn't use to happen, but of course, the numbers of demonstrators were much bigger back in 'the good ole days'.  What is appalling to me is the lack of response of the on-lookers - they just stood or sat there when they could have joined the parade, so to speak.

    "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

    by JFinNe on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 05:13:42 AM PDT

  •  God bless the librarians! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MadRuth, Wee Mama, JFinNe, o the umanity

    My question is ... why is this sweet, matronly librarian the only one standing in protest at this venue?

    Once again, the librarians will be at the forefront of this muddled, slowly, plodding whisper of a revolution to regain our civil liberties.

    My Homer is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star. -Grandpa Simpson

    by xobehtedistuo on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 05:20:10 AM PDT

    •  and when will we join them? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xobehtedistuo

      hopefully, very soon...

      On second thought , let's not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place

      by o the umanity on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 05:26:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Damn, it's not for failure of trying right? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nanobubble

        Right now I am so frustrated that I can't even watch news programs without friggin' seething under the collar. And I'm a pretty laid back individual.

        I'm entirely perplexed by the lack of concern in this country when everyday is a fest of inane legislation and political chess moves meant to diminish the power of the people while magnifying and solidifying the the power and insatiable greed of a new, and unabashed, corporate government. Everyday I say, "It can't get any worst ... and every day it does!"

        It's hard not to feel like one is drowning in an ever increasing pool of stupidity and insanity! There are plenty of us who try, only to be slapped in the face by a complicit Legislative for the efforts. It's way past time for this country to wake up to the divided states of the new corporate America.

        Today, I'm ready to go to jail!

        My Homer is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star. -Grandpa Simpson

        by xobehtedistuo on Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 05:44:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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