Bush Makes Protesters 'Disappear'
By Charles Levendosky
Casper Star-Tribune

President 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 that had traditionally been used for peaceful protests.
As 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.
The 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 passes.
Free speech zone
Members of the Secret Service or local law enforcement officers under orders of the Secret Service demand protesters move into a free speech area.
Peter 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."
Brett 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."
Bursey 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 that 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.
He 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.
However, those charges were dropped. Understandably, courts across the nation have upheld the right to protest on public property.
Instead, 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.
Free speech plea
Members 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.
The 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."
The 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.
The 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.
- Charles Levendosky, editorial page editor of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, has a national reputation for Bill of Rights commentary. His e-mail address is
Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.




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