Free Speech Zone

  • #1
December 15, 2003 issue
Copyright © 2003 The American Conservative

“Free-Speech Zone”

The administration quarantines dissent.

By James Bovard

On Dec. 6, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft informed the Senate Judiciary Committee, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty … your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and … give ammunition to America’s enemies.” Some commentators feared that Ashcroft’s statement, which was vetted beforehand by top lawyers at the Justice Department, signaled that this White House would take a far more hostile view towards opponents than did recent presidents. And indeed, some Bush administration policies indicate that Ashcroft’s comment was not a mere throwaway line.

When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up “free speech zones” or “protest zones” where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.

Complete text at http://www.amconmag.com/12_15_03/feature.html
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Zero
Bush hates freedom...why don't you tell us something we DON'T know?
 
  • #3

The Justice Department is now prosecuting Brett Bursey, who was arrested for holding a “No War for Oil” sign at a Bush visit to Columbia, S.C. Local police, acting under Secret Service orders, established a “free speech zone” half a mile from where Bush would speak. Bursey was standing amid hundreds of people carrying signs praising the president. Police told Bursey to remove himself to the “free speech zone.”

Bursey refused and was arrested. Bursey said that he asked the policeman if “it was the content of my sign, and he said, ‘Yes, sir, it’s the content of your sign that’s the problem.’” Bursey stated that he had already moved 200 yards from where Bush was supposed to speak. Bursey later complained, “The problem was, the restricted area kept moving. It was wherever I happened to be standing.”

That's just too much. Can he countersue the Secret Service for this?
 
  • #4
Originally posted by The_Professional
That's just too much. Can he countersue the Secret Service for this?

What lawyer is going to put his career/life on the line to sue the Secret Service?


Do you ever wonder why the mainstream media, like CNN and Fox News, never cover these important topics? Make's you wonder if the media is actually free, or controlled.
 
  • #5
Yes true, you almost never hear it from regular mainstream news. Not even in most newspapers.
 
  • #6
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Crazy stuff. Free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.
 
  • #7
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John Ashcroft is a menace to the bill of rights. It will take decades to un-do what his department of injustice has done. Bush must go in '04 in the interest of liberty at the very least.
 
  • #8
Zero
Originally posted by Adam
Crazy stuff. Free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.
I wouldn't go that far...but there needs to be compelling reason to restrict free speech, and not just political expedience.
 
  • #9
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Originally posted by Zero
I wouldn't go that far...but there needs to be compelling reason to restrict free speech, and not just political expedience.

So who decides those reasons? And on what basis? Can you guarantee they are without bias? How can I know he/she is without bias, and why should I trust that person? What if that person thinks we should not talk about something which I wish to discuss? What if that person thinks we should not talk about the gas chambers and death camps?

In other words, since we all have different values, there is no just way to lay that power in any person's hands. There is no reason why one person's opinion of what is allowed to be discussed should apply to everyone.

This is why free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.
 
  • #10
Njorl
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Originally posted by Adam
So who decides those reasons? And on what basis? Can you guarantee they are without bias? How can I know he/she is without bias, and why should I trust that person? What if that person thinks we should not talk about something which I wish to discuss? What if that person thinks we should not talk about the gas chambers and death camps?

In other words, since we all have different values, there is no just way to lay that power in any person's hands. There is no reason why one person's opinion of what is allowed to be discussed should apply to everyone.

This is why free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.

This is a common misconception. Political speech should be free, but there are limits on other speech.

-Speech can be restricted for public safety. You can't shout "FIRE!" in a crowded movie thearter, unless there is a fire. It is arguable that even some truthful speech could be restricted for this purpose. Consider nuclear terrorism. Terrorists are attempting to blackmail the government with nuclear weapons. They say if any attempts are made to evacuate the city, they will blow it up. A reporter gets the information and wants to print it. The government prevents him.

-Discussing how to commit a crime is itself a crime, conspiracy.

In the case mentioned though, the government is almost certainly in the wrong. If political speech is deemed to be allowed in the venue, then all aspects of political speech must be allowed. The only way I can see the government winning this point is if it was not a public event.

Njorl

Njorl
 
  • #11
Zero
Originally posted by Njorl
This is a common misconception. Political speech should be free, but there are limits on other speech.

-Speech can be restricted for public safety. You can't shout "FIRE!" in a crowded movie thearter, unless there is a fire. It is arguable that even some truthful speech could be restricted for this purpose. Consider nuclear terrorism. Terrorists are attempting to blackmail the government with nuclear weapons. They say if any attempts are made to evacuate the city, they will blow it up. A reporter gets the information and wants to print it. The government prevents him.

-Discussing how to commit a crime is itself a crime, conspiracy.

In the case mentioned though, the government is almost certainly in the wrong. If political speech is deemed to be allowed in the venue, then all aspects of political speech must be allowed. The only way I can see the government winning this point is if it was not a public event.

Njorl

Njorl
Exactly. For instance, if Bush has a cheering section, then protesters deserve an equal section in the same area, not several miles away. Protecting the media image of a politician isn't a compelling reason to restrict free speech.
 
  • #12
russ_watters
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Originally posted by Adam
Crazy stuff. Free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.
I thought we had this discussion before: free speech is not, nor ever has been intended to be absolute. Like all rights, it has restrictions: specifically, it ends where it infringes on the rights of others (Njorl gave examples).
So who decides those reasons? And on what basis?
The Supreme Court based on the US Constitution (and its basis in the political theory of Locke, Rousseau, etc) in the US.
Can you guarantee they are without bias?
No. Certainly not. They are human.
why should I trust that person?
You don't have to - you just have to obey the rules you consent to by choosing to live in such a society.
What if that person thinks we should not talk about the gas chambers and death camps?
That person would not last long in a position of authority in a democracy.
This is why free speech must be absolute, or it does not exist at all.
Absolute rights are a contradiction in terms because no person can exist in a vacuum. The way you exercise your rights affects the ability of others to exercise their rights. That's Locke's theory on rights and the basis for rights in Western society.
In other words, since we all have different values, there is no just way to lay that power in any person's hands.
If you are arguing in favor of Moral Relativism, that is an invalid theory of morality and it is NOT (despite what many people believe) the foundation of western ideas about morality/ethics/rights. Thats a topic for another thread though (or you could search the board for where it has been discussed in depth before). If its not a topic you've seen before, I suggest reading up about the debate between Moral Relativism and Moral Absolutism.
In the case mentioned though, the government is almost certainly in the wrong.
From what little was posted, I would agree: almost certainly wrong. The actual situation is doubtless more complicated than the two sentence blurb though.
 
  • #13
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njorl

-Speech can be restricted for public safety. You can't shout "FIRE!" in a crowded movie thearter, unless there is a fire.
This is a common miconsception. You are referring not to free speech, or to the logic involved, but to USA law. And only USA law.

It is arguable that even some truthful speech could be restricted for this purpose. Consider nuclear terrorism. Terrorists are attempting to blackmail the government with nuclear weapons. They say if any attempts are made to evacuate the city, they will blow it up. A reporter gets the information and wants to print it. The government prevents him.
Security classifications should not prevent freedom of speech. However, the rigorous exercise of security prcoedures should limit the ability of reporters and others to know classified information anyway.

-Discussing how to commit a crime is itself a crime, conspiracy.
Again, you are discussing only USA law. Not freedom of speech.

Apart from irrelevent discussions of one nation's legal codes...

The important question remains: Who decides what can and can't be said? What makes your opinion of the bounds of free speech more important than mine? What makes your opinion less important than Hitler's? Exactly which books do we burn? Do we restrict the Terrorist's Handbook on the same grounds that one country decided you can not legally shout "Fire" in a crowded cinema? Surely the Terrorist's Handbook is equally likely to cause harm, so why not outlaw that too? And once we outlaw that, why not books about medieval surgical techniques? Heck, even books on modern first aid can teach us how to deliberately cause harm, so we'd better outlaw those too! Where exactly does it stop? And why? And why is your opinion of where to stop, and what to outlaw, more important than mine?
 
  • #14
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How do you even decide what speech is anyway?
 
  • #15
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russ_waters

free speech is not, nor ever has been intended to be absolute. Like all rights, it has restrictions:
Incorrect. Let me quote the US Constitution itself:
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.
This is Amendment One of the Bill of Rights, which you can read here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html

Regarding US law alone: it is illegal to restrict freedom of speech by any law.

You don't have to - you just have to obey the rules you consent to by choosing to live in such a society.
I'll make it simple for you:
  • Do people born in that country have a right to live under the founding principles of that country?
  • Or do the law-makers have the right to change those principles, so that those born in that country must make a choice to accept changed conditions or live somewhere else?
If the latter, then what value has the US Constitution at all?

That person would not last long in a position of authority in a democracy.
Ashcroft.

Absolute rights are a contradiction in terms because no person can exist in a vacuum.
There is no logic in that statement. What has being in a vacuum or not got to do with rights? Explain coherently, rather than simply quoting platitudes.

That's Locke's theory on rights and the basis for rights in Western society.
While I'm sure the webpage you lifted that from looks really spiffy, it's completely wrong. Locke was a mere few centuries ago, whereas the society you term "Western" has its roots in the earliest known empires of the Mediterranean.

If you are arguing in favor of Moral Relativism, that is an invalid theory of morality and it is NOT (despite what many people believe) the foundation of western ideas about morality/ethics/rights.
Why is it an invalid theory? Explain logically, please.
 
  • #16
NateTG
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Does anyone think that this is more of a freedom of the press issue than it is a freedom of speech issue.

Ultimately the problem is not that people are not allowed to protest at Bush's speech, but that they cannot broadcast their opinion on the same widely distributed mass media channel. Here it is also clearer that the goverment provides a monopoly to the broadcasting corporations through the FCC.
 
  • #17
Zero
I think some of you folks need to be a little more realistic. It is true that no one lives in a vacuum, and no law exists in one either. There is no freedom that can be absolute, if it can potentially conflict with other laws and freedoms.For instance, you have the right to say whatever you want in your home. You do NOT have the right to stand on the edge of your property and scream into your neighbor's yard. You do not have the right to generally ignore the rights and freedoms of others to express your views.
 
  • #18
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Actually, you can't get away with protesting a performer at any event. Try going to a play a yelling at the actors. Your going to get thrown out. The same thing goes for a speech.

By setting up protest zones, they are allowing security to look for real threats, and not having to deal with people trying interupt the proceedings.
 
  • #19
Zero
Originally posted by Daze
Actually, you can't get away with protesting a performer at any event. Try going to a play a yelling at the actors. Your going to get thrown out. The same thing goes for a speech.

By setting up protest zones, they are allowing security to look for real threats, and not having to deal with people trying interupt the proceedings.
Bush doesn't have the right to avoid protest by moving protester miles away from him. He just doesn't. I don't mean to say that the protesters have a right to rush the stage, but that they should be allowed to protest within a reasonable distance from the speech. If you want to set them up directly behind the supporters, that's cool, or even across the street.
 
  • #20
Njorl
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Originally posted by Daze
Actually, you can't get away with protesting a performer at any event. Try going to a play a yelling at the actors. Your going to get thrown out. The same thing goes for a speech.

By setting up protest zones, they are allowing security to look for real threats, and not having to deal with people trying interupt the proceedings.

When you make a contract to view an entertainment, you agree to abide by the rules the vendor of that entertainment sets. You have tacitly, voluntarily agreed to forego your freedom of speech for the duration of the event.

A public political speech is different. Those admitted have made no bargain to give up rights. The president is using public funds to hold the event, ostensibly for the illumination of the general public. Political speech is allowed, demonstrably by the presence of the president's supporters. There is absolutely no grounds for preventing dissenting speech.

If the event was actually a private affair - say a fundraiser paid for with campaign funds, then things are different. Still, secret service should not be ejecting protestors unless they threaten the president's safety. Protestors would need to be ejected by private security or local police. The ejection would not be on the grounds of their speech, but on the grounds that they are trespassing.

Njorl
 
  • #21
Zero
Bush gives up a certain amount of protection because he is a public figure. He is not our king, he cannot recieve more rights than us.
 
  • #22
NateTG
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Originally posted by Daze
Actually, you can't get away with protesting a performer at any event. Try going to a play a yelling at the actors. Your going to get thrown out. The same thing goes for a speech.

Ah, but there is no freedom of trespass. Almost all performances take place on private property. Technically, the theater can throw you out for no reason at all.

Originally posted by Daze
By setting up protest zones, they are allowing security to look for real threats, and not having to deal with people trying interupt the proceedings.

The use of 'protest zones' does not improve what is traditionally referred to as security unless it affects all unknown persons including those who support the speaker. It may increase the perception of security, but that's a different issue. It may, in fact have a negative impact because it occupies personell who could otherwise be performing tasks that would improve security.
 
  • #23
Zero
Originally posted by NateTG
Ah, but there is no freedom of trespass. Almost all performances take place on private property. Technically, the theater can throw you out for no reason at all.



The use of 'protest zones' does not improve what is traditionally referred to as security unless it affects all unknown persons including those who support the speaker. It may increase the perception of security, but that's a different issue. It may, in fact have a negative impact because it occupies personell who could otherwise be performing tasks that would improve security.
Not to mention the fact that no security threat would be stupid enough to wear a "Bush sucks" T-shirt.
 
  • #24
russ_watters
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Originally posted by Njorl
. Political speech is allowed, demonstrably by the presence of the president's supporters. There is absolutely no grounds for preventing dissenting speech.
Yeah there is: supporters are generally not disruptive. Protestors are.

Adam, a few quick notes: on the 1st Amendment, while it states that freedom of speech cannot be restricted, it doesn't define what freedom of speech is. Making it illegal to yell "fire!" in a crowded theater is not a restriction on freedom of speech because its not free speech.

Regarding the political theory issues there, while you are certainly free to disagree with the validity of any theory, what the theories say, who wrote them, and what political documents and ideologies are based on them is historical fact and not arguable. I'm not going to teach a political theory or ethics course here: if you don't believe the facts I posted about western political theory, look them up yourself or better yet take a political science, ethics, or western philosophy class.
 
  • #25
member 5645


Originally posted by Adam
Incorrect. Let me quote the US Constitution itself:

This is Amendment One of the Bill of Rights, which you can read here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html

Regarding US law alone: it is illegal to restrict freedom of speech by any law.


Why is it an invalid theory? Explain logically, please.


You are correct, you cannot limit the freedom of speech.
You can however limit the ability to speak in different areas.
This is what has happened in the aforementioned article. I do not like the names for it (as it sets an ugly precident), but when you get down to it, this is no different than roping off different areas of a city's downtown for a parade, or other gathering.

These people are still free to speak, they are free to peacfully assemble - they are not free to disrupt the ongoings of a particular activity, and in this case, they are being limited in where they have access to. This is nothing new, it just has a ****ty name to it, and is thus taken as awful as it sounds.
 

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