Sunday, February 17, 2008

Free Speech isn't'll cost you $20

...and only then if the local government wants to let you be heard.

I saw this in the Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice the other day: City set to establish permit fee for protests. I know a lot of other places have requirements for permits and fees for things like this, and frankly, I was surprised that Wilkes-Barre didn't already have such an ordinance in place.

Sure, it doesn't sound right. Is it Unconstitutional? Well, the Constitution only states

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It doesn't say anything about what the Wilkes-Barre City Council can and cannot do.

And, sadly, there's a lot of precedent for Wilkes-Barre to rest on. According to a comment from local activist Tim Grier on Big Dan's Big Blog, this ordinance is based on one that has been on the books in Philadelphia - and, as Tim found out in a recent dispute with Luzerne County (where he learned that people who merely reside in a County, but are not members of the Landed Gentry, have fewer rights than those folks who are), precedent is 99/100ths of the law. Remember the "Free Speech Zones" in New York City during the 2004 conventions - basically concentration camps where protestors could speak their minds in fenced-in areas well out of earshot of anyone they were trying to protest against, or wanted to be heard by? That's where ordinances like this lead.

These ordinances exist for several reasons. They provide a way to restrict and regulate who says what, and when and where they say it. They provide a legal basis for silencing those who refuse to comply. And they provide revenue, $20 at a time.

I wonder if the local governments of Selma or Montgomery, Alabama would have granted a permit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? As Tim points out, "While they say they 'won't deny anyone a permit,' there are more than thirty reasons listed in the ordinance that enables them to do just that."

If you live in the City of Wilkes-Barre - well, now is the time to speak up about this. Before you have to cough up $20 to do so, if someone decides to allow you that right.

Last time I looked, honey, I was living in the United States of America, not the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This whole friggin' country is a Free Speech Zone, and a lot of folks fought and died to make it that way. If you don't like it, go to Russia. Just don't let Uncle Vladimir serve you tea.

Thanks to Gort for the prodding, and Big Dan for the heavy lifting, and Tim Grier and Walter Griffith for making an issue of this when other people might have just shrugged and said "Eh, whaddya gonna go?"


Big Dan said...

Nice blog ya got the dog!

D.B. Echo said...

Thanks! I liked her too.

Big Dan said...

...maybe they'll be like the Bush administration and say, "We're doing this because we love you...and we don't want you to get hurt! We know better than you...TRUST US!"

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

I love how our right just seem to be eroding away.

Gort said...

It's not like W-B is a hotbed of protests. A few candlelight vigils on the square about the Iraq war, people at the courthouse upset with the commissioners over the latest outrage or a couple of cranks acting up at a parade. I think the city has more pressing problems than trying to regulate the people's right to assemble.

anne said...

I'm really curious as to what actuall prompted this in the good city of W-B.

Has this ever been tested through the courts?

Anonymous said...



D.B. Echo said...

While I don't normally give any credence to anonymous comments made in ALL CAPS, I may as well ask: you got any evidence for any of those statements?

- From Lawton, Oklahoma?
- Transient protestor passing through several small PA towns?
- Looking for a free education?

I have uncovered some evidence that Tim Grier is a Freshman from Nebraska who in 2007 posted a time of 52.60 seconds in the Men's 400 Meter Hurdles...

Anonymous said...

He's a hurdler alright...he puts them up.

He's 33 still in school...if you reside in PA you get a BIG discount on state funded schools as a "resident". Perhaps not exactly stealing like he likes to say everyone in the government is doing, but just as close.

Something happened to Timmy somewhere along the line that he is very angry at the government and started to lose it over the past few years.

Not sure what might have happened in the military, but he came back with an awfully big chip on his shoulder.

And he is from Lawton, OK.

All of what Timmy gets involved in always goes beyond the issue and it's becomes all about Timmy getting he mug in the paper or a flashy quote in the paper in a place like Wilkes Barre where they are eager to place it there.

He could care less about that little city in PA, he'll be gone if and when he's conferred a degree from Penn State.

For me...on the issue of the W-B and the's flat out wrong. Period. I can understand the US Secret Service likes to have a bit more structure in a place like W-B for not only the safety of candidates but also for the safety of those who wish to exercise the right to free speech. I think any group over 25 in a small city should file paperwork at no charge.

Michelle D said...

Maybe they put this ordinance into effect expecting some of the big names to come to the Kirby Center. Hillary, Obama or Mccain? Remember how many protesters there were when John Kerry was there? I distinctly remember someone driving a truck around Public Square with pictures of partially aborted fetuses on it when I was 7 or 8 months pregnant with Gabby. It was in poor taste. That was something I didn't need to see being as pregnant as I was. I did not choose abortion, so why do I need to see the pics. It was upsetting to say the least.

t.g. said...

I was stationed in Lawton, Oklahoma when I served on active duty.

Damn right I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to the government. To be honest, I don't see how more people don't.

I pay the same for my education that everyone else in Pennsylvania does. I was born in PA, went to h.s. in NEPA, and that which my G.I. Bill has not paid for, I have covered with student loans. Which I have to pay back - no choice there.

I would rather not be in the paper or portrayed anywhere else; I have repeatedly said it is about the issues, not me.

I just so happens that I am bringing attention to the egregious behavior of elected officials, so the media uses my 'mug' to sell papers.

One correct statement (sort of) - I will probably leave when (in May, not 'if') I am conferred a degree - just like 85% of the other college grads from this area.