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Keyword: ‘The Obscenity of "Free Speech Zones’

Criticize Bush, Go to Jail: The Obscenity of “Free Speech Zones”

July 14th, 2004 2 comments

Nicole Rank, a worker for FEMA, and her husband Jeff, attended a “presidential appearance” at the West Virginia capitol building. The appearance by Bush–not billed as a campaign rally–was on public property and was paid for using public funds–not paid for by the Bush campaign, but by the citizens of the state and the country.

The pair were wearing jackets when they entered, and during the rally took off the jackets to reveal T-shirts that had the name “BUSH” with a red line crossed through it on the front, and on the back, the words “Love America, Hate Bush” written on them.

According to the two page document given to attendees, T-shirts with messages were not prohibited. Many others at the rally had pro-Bush T-shirts, as well as buttons, pins, and signs.

But the Ranks were immediately told to remove themselves from the public event, and instructed to move to a “designated protest area,” which was likely well-removed from the area (but not specified in any article I found).

When the couple refused, quite rightly and legally asserting their freedom of expression, they were promptly handcuffed and arrested for trespassing. On public property. During a public event, paid for with taxpayer dollars. Simply for wearing T-shirts critical of the president.

This is not the first time this has happened, stories like this are appearing everywhere you look. Frank Van Den Bosch was arrested for holding up an “FUGW” sign as the Bush motorcade passed by (by that time, he had reworded the sign to read “Free Us, GW”). Bill Neel was arrested for showing Bush a sign saying, “The Bush family must surely love the poor, they made so many of us.” Three demonstrators, two of them grandmothers, were arrested in St. Petersburg, Florida, for holding up handwritten signs critical of the president during a public rally. The third protester, a 62-year old man, held a sign saying, “War is good business; Invest your sons.” Brett Bursey of South Carolina was arrested for holding up a sign reading “No War for Oil.” And the list goes on and on.

Bizarre excuses are given for the arrests. One secret service agent said on a radio show that “These individuals may be so involved with trying to shout their support or nonsupport that inadvertently they may walk out into the motorcade route and be injured.” The only other possible reason for the Secret Service to be engaged in this is for security reasons, preventing assassinations–but that would also be ludicrous, as the last thing a potential assassin would carry would be a protest sign.

Most of these people are told that they must take their contrarian views to designated “free speech zones.” I first heard of “free speech zones” on college campuses, used as a way to remove protesters from in front of the student union building, and restrict them to out-of-the-way locations on campus where they would not be heard by anyone. But now, it seems, they are designated at every single event the president attends and every public route he travels. And such zones are enforced just under Bush, by the way–Clinton was never “protected” in this way (although prior Republican presidents have also been known to arrest protesters on various grounds).

“Free Speech Zones” are both an oxymoron and an obscenity. The zones are an oxymoron because free speech is, by definition, universal, so it cannot be restricted to a specified area. If speech is allowed only in restricted areas, then it is not free. Just a few moments of consideration will reveal to any honest thinker that if there is a free speech zone, then by definition, there is no free speech outside of that zone. In theory, according to the constitution, the entire country is supposed to be a “free speech zone.”

These zones are an obscenity because they violate the ideals of freedom and equality that are central to the very concept of America, and make a cruel joke of the “freedom” that Bush himself so vehemently contends that he protects. So far as I know, this matter has not made its way to the Supreme Court, and one can only imagine that when it does, the “free speech zone” will be obliterated–unless Bush is elected in 2004 and gets to stack the court with 2 or 3 justices to finish the job that his father started.

Reporting from a free speech zone outside the United States… good morning.

Update: The charges against the couple have been dismissed, as these kinds of charges often are. But the fact is that the couple were removed from the event, accomplishing the task of quashing their expression at the time. And if the same couple ever do the same thing at another Bush appearance, they would simply be removed again on the same charges, which again would be dismissed, but not after again quashing their free speech–with no penalty to those who abuse their authority to arrest people.

Additionally, Nicole Rank has been dismissed from her government job at FEMA because of the arrest. So, again, “Mission Accomplished” for the Bush administration. Criticize Bush, get falsely arrested, pay a lot of legal fees, and lose your job.

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