NOTE: Charles Levendosky, editorial page editor
of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, has a national
reputation for Bill of Rights commentary. His
email address is
Bush has never been an advocate of the First Amendment.
Even when he was governor of Texas, he prohibited
demonstrations on the walkways in front of the
governor's mansion, an area which had traditionally
been used for peaceful protests.
president, Bush has widened his restrictions on
demonstrations against his policies. Anti-Bush
protesters are now relegated to what are euphemistically
called Free Speech Zones. These areas are cordoned
off as far as a mile away from the president and
the main thoroughfares, so that Bush cannot see
the demonstrators, or their signs of protest,
nor hear their chants.
free speech enclosures are only for those who
disagree with the administration's current policies.
Those citizens who carry pro-Bush signs are allowed
to line the street where the president's motorcade
of the Secret Service or local law enforcement
officers under orders of the Secret Service demand
protesters move into a free speech area.
Buckley, of Oregon, a former Democratic candidate
for Congress, attended a presidential appearance.
After being herded into a fenced-in free speech
area, he wrote in an opinion piece for the Oregonian:
"We were not allowed anywhere near any kind of
position where the president, or the media which
follows him, would see or hear us. This is not
America. This in not the land of the free and
the home of the brave. This is some other country.
I'm a patriotic American. I want the country I
was raised to believe in, a country strong enough
for political discourse and debate, with leaders
courageous and decent enough to have the willingness
to listen to all citizens, not just those who
parrot their own views. ... The effort being made
to hide political opposition in this country is
more than cowardly, it's un-American."
Bursey, of South Carolina, attended a speech given
by the president at the Columbia Metropolitan
Airport. He was standing among thousands of other
citizens. Bursey held up a sign stating: "No more
war for oil."
did not pose a threat to the president, nor was
he located in an area restricted to official personnel.
Bursey wasn't blocking a corridor the Secret Service
needed to keep clear for security reasons. He
was standing among citizens who were enthusiastically
greeting Bush. Bursey, however, was the only one
holding an anti-Bush sign.
was ordered to put down his sign or move to a
designated protest site more than half a mile
away, outside the sight and hearing of the president.
Bursey refused. He was then arrested and charged
with trespassing by the South Carolina police.
those charges were dropped. Understandably, courts
across the nation have upheld the right to protest
on public property.
Bursey was indicted by the federal government
for violation of a federal law that allows the
Secret Service to restrict access to areas visited
by the president. Bursey faces up to six months
in prison and a $5,000 fine.
of the U.S. House, including those on the House
Judiciary Committee and the House Select Committee
on Homeland Security, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney
General John Ashcroft urging him to drop the federal
criminal prosecution of Bursey.
letter signed by 11 members of the House, including
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Ron Paul,
R-Texas, states, in part: "As we read the First
Amendment to the Constitution, the United States
is a "free speech zone." In the United States,
free speech is the rule, not the exception, and
citizens' rights to express it do not depend on
their doing it in a way that the President finds
politically amenable. ... We ask that you make
it clear that we have no interest as a government
in "zoning" Constitutional freedoms, and that
being politically annoying to the President of
the United States is not a criminal offense. This
prosecution smacks of the use of the Sedition
Acts two hundred years ago to protect the President
from political discomfort. It was wrong then and
it is wrong now."
American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of four
national advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit in
federal court charging the Secret Service with
a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against
protesters that violates their free speech rights.
The suit seeks to ban the Secret Service and local
police from confining protesters to areas away
from the view of public officials and the press.
federal government has gone much further, however.
The Oct. 3, Fresno (Calif.) Bee reported that
a member of the Fresno Sheriff's Department had
infiltrated the peace group, Peace Fresno, to
collect information on members of the group. Peace
Fresno has no history of violent protests that
would endanger national security.
on July 13, the Department of Justice charged
the environmental organization, Greenpeace Inc.,
with conspiracy to board a cargo vessel without
the ship's permission and without other lawful
authority before the vessel arrived at its destination.
The second count under this prosecution charges
Greenpeace with boarding the vessel before arrival.
The maximum penalty for each count is a $10,000
fine, as well as a probation period that could
reach 11 years. The cargo vessel was approximately
three miles from the port of Miami.
activists have peacefully boarded ships throughout
the world to protest illegal cargo or illegal
fishing methods. They board, protest, then disembark
to their own inflatable speedboats.
protest that sparked this federal prosecution
occurred back in April 2002. Two Greenpeace activists
climbed aboard a cargo ship to unfurl a banner
protesting the ship's illegal cargo of Amazon
mahogany wood. The banner simply read: "President
Bush: Stop Illegal Logging." The activists were
detained before they could unfurl the banner.
It was an effort to prompt U.S. authorities to
seize the ship's cargo.
the mahogany was never seized and the ship's captain
was not detained for carrying illegal cargo. Instead,
Greenpeace became the target of federal prosecutors.
pattern is clear: the Bush administration wants
to suppress civil disobedience and peaceful protest.
The federal government has never criminally prosecuted
an entire organization for the free speech activities
of its supporters. It's an attack on the very
core of the First Amendment.
of this nation's founding documents, the Declaration
of Independence, is a forceful protest against
the actions of King George III and the British
government. Protest actions like the Boston Tea
Party, the civil rights movement and anti-war
demonstrations have shown that active citizens
have the ability to promote and secure democratic
2003 Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune
Posted: November 9, 2003