Wednesday, February 01, 2006

These are rant-worthy times...

Is anyone else appalled that Cindy Sheehan was ejected from the congressional chamber where Bush was to give his State of the Union address, because she was wearing a t-shirt that said "2245 Dead. How many more?" And meanwhile, Laura Bush provided a guest seat to a GERMAN SHEPHERD?

I guess dogs aren' t too likely to criticize the president.

I understand that the basis for her expulsion was a rule that prohibits "demonstrating" or "protesting" in the house chamber. Query whether the silent exhibition of a shirt that states a fact -- or even a specific political position -- is "demonstrating" or "protesting." Indeed, wouldn't a congressional chamber be an appropriate place for silent, non-disruptive communication like that? I'm sure that these very issues will be discussed as Sheehan challenges her arrest from that night. (Just so you know, the republican senator's wife who was also invited to leave for wearing a shirt that said "Support our troops!" was NOT arrested or charged with any crime. Sheehan was.)

It's important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically decided that slogans on t-shirts are speech protected by the First Amendment. Read Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) some time. In that case, the Court struck down the conviction of a man who had worn a t-shirt that said "F--K the Draft" in a county courthouse. In the Court's opinion, Justice Harlan wrote:

"The constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine in a society as diverse and populous as ours. It is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that use of such freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polity and in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests. ... To many, the immediate consequence of this freedom may often appear to be only verbal tumult, discord, and even offensive utterance. These are, however, within established limits, in truth necessary side effects of the broader enduring values which the process of open debate permits us to achieve. That the air may at times seem filled with verbal cacophony is, in this sense not a sign of weakness but of strength. We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in what otherwise might seem a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege, these fundamental societal values are truly implicated. That is why '(w)holly neutral futilities * * * come under the protection of free speech as fully as do Keats' poems or Donne's sermons,' and why 'so long as the means are peaceful, the communication need not meet standards of acceptability.' ... Indeed, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said, '(o)ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures--and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation.' "

Bush's claims that he is protecting democracy around the world sure ring false when he is so dramatically damaging it here at home.

6 comments:

Gerrie said...

You know I agree with you. I love that you are ranting for me while I am exhausted by my life!!

Mrs. Mel said...

I too agree, and cannot believe what is happening under his 'reign'. I am spitting mad.

Scrapmaker said...

At least the charges were dropped, but it never should have happened in the first place. Jen

JulieZS said...

A truly frightening occurence. So maddening that so many people think that Sheehan deserved it, how dare she speak up...I can't belive this is America anymore, turning into Amerika more and more everyday. What the heck can we do about it??

Debra said...

Ok.. not about the Sheehan thing.. but a funny thing on the free speech on t-shirts.

A guy in Ohio wore a tshirt that said "F*ck Michigan" the week of the big game. He was arrested and brought before the judge. (gee, an OSU grad.).. who ruled that is would be physically impossible to actually perform that statement, so it must be a metaphorically statement and not an obscenity.

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