What next? A zone for freedom of religion?
© St. Petersburg Times
With any luck the timing will work out right.
The St. Petersburg Times has always had a distaste for its reporters or columnists getting arrested, and knowing that has tailored my behavior (well, some of it) for the past 29 years, but I can smell one coming.
The next time the president is in town I am sure I will feel pretty well compelled to run out and commit an act of free speech, and probably do it outside of the designated "free-speech zones" that have suddenly, and without enough resultant outrage for my money, appeared on the government/people interface.
(An aside: Please be kind. I have used the word "interface" in a column only five times in those 29 years of which I spoke.)
That the terms "free speech zones," "first amendment zones" or "demonstration zones" should even exist is Orwellian enough. That very few people seem to notice or care is even more bizarre.
Having now voiced my intention to violate a law (although nobody seems to be able to tell me exactly which one) in connection with the next presidential visit (probably well after my retirement in August unless the Jebster decides to run for something else in the meanwhile) I am probably earning myself a tail, or at least a computer flag from the Secret Service and der Vaterla. . . -- oops, I mean Homeland Security guys.
I guess there is some sort of charge like "conspiracy to speak your mind" or "public expression of intent to disagree," although the Tampa Police Department tends to use things such as trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey police orders.
The thing is that they know none of those charges has a chance in the world of standing up in court, but by using them as a pretense they can effectively violate people's civil rights and effectively silence the dissent, legally or not. By the time the emperor would have seen the signs pointing out that his new clothes are nonexistent, he has already passed by.
The argument that "security" dictates the need to trample all over the First Amendment is a pretty weak one. Real assassins aren't likely to call attention to themselves with protest signs, and if I were in charge of security, I would look much more closely at the people trying to look friendly.
Repugnant as it is, I have a sense of how rally and event organizers feel about such things. Years ago I went to see the controversial movie The Last Temptation of Christ, which was extremely unpopular with some Christians. There were demonstrations outside the Tampa theater that was showing the movie, and across the country there had been reports of people trying to damage movie screens to prevent showings of the film.
Even though I was diametrically opposed to the viewpoint of the protesters, and even though their "free speech zone" was at least in plain view of those of us attending the film instead of out of sight, as the allowable zones during Bush visits have been, it still made me uneasy to see their right to disagree regulated. It was, to be fair, on private property, which is entirely different from a public right of way where it is, apparently, all right to advertise laxatives, just not ideas.
One important point to make is that what is going on with the repression of unpopular expression outside the zones is that it is, in its purest sense, censorship.
Censorship, a word that gets trotted out every time a sentence is changed in someone's letter to the editor or a kid with an obscene T-shirt is ordered out of the mall where he probably bought it, is really a very narrow term meaning that the government, not a private property owner or publisher, is exercising control.
That control is understandable in cases of real national security or intelligence-gathering, but it is at constant risk of being misused by those who see it as a tool to silence disagreement.
Come to think of it, I haven't checked yet to see if my office is in or out of designated free speech zones. I guess there is a map somewhere. Maybe it is a secret.
Maybe I have been reading too much Kafka.
Maybe I haven't been reading enough.
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