Our Not So Free SpeechBy: Jeff Spector
As a child of the 60s and 70s, I came to realize that the rights we have as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are somewhat conditional. Firstly, and obviously, you are not free to yell “fire” in a crowded movie house unless there really is a danger. But secondly, and more provocatively, your speech and right to assemble are limited by what the government might perceive as a “clear and present danger,” whether it be Federal, State or Local. In other words, if one of the governments really does not like your speech or your assembly, they make an excuse to break it up. While a lot is let go, when that perceived danger arises, they take action.
One only has to look at how various Occupy Movement encampments were handled, the spying and infiltrating the FBI and other agencies did on the 70’s anti-war movement, the KKK in the 60’s and communist organizations in the 50s. Spying was not limited to groups, but also to individuals. All in the name of “national security.” The FBI, especially under J. Edgar Hoover, had extensive files on people including prominent foreigners who lived in the US. The riot situation at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago was born out of an anti-war protest. In the last decade, in the wake of 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which allowed the federal and local governments even more power to spy on the American people.
For instance, here in Colorado Springs, the Occupy movement was camped in Acadia Park, an open-square type park in downtown. The worked out an arrangement, under a permit from the city, that they will no longer camp in the park, but be there from the hours the park “opened” and “closed.” The park is wide open so the open and close were arbitrary times set to discourage the homeless from living in the park full time since it is down the street from the soup kitchen. After a month of this arrangement where the demonstrators and police totally cooperated with each other, the Mayor decided not to grant the folks another permit because “ they had been there long enough.” There was no fighting, urination, sexual assault and only one small incident where a protestor was arrested for having outstanding warrants. But, the mayor decided that free speech is limited to the speech that he likes. Being a very conservative town, it was not what the Occupiers were saying. However, the Tea Party folks with their racist signs and chants were pretty much left alone, though their rallies were pretty short by comparison.
We can agree that people are not free to perform bodily functions in public or, to commit sexual assaults or other crimes in the name of free speech and assembly. But what about peaceful protest?
So, what is your take? To be really have the right to Free Speech and Assembly as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights or is it conditional?