Monday, July 28, 2008

No surprises. I'm on the free speech side.

Bexley is considering banning protests that focus on particular residences. The impetus is a request from an abortion provider whose home was picketed this spring. A number of high-profile individuals reside here, and it is not difficult to imagine several different targets for protesters. The idea behind this is that an individual should be protected in their own home, and that protests at a residence are likely to be attempts to harass and intimidate, as opposed to protests that focus on businesses or offices where the acts being protested originate.

Is it inconceivable that I could write something here that could offend some group enough to picket in front of my home and yell hateful things at my toddler daughter? I can imagine it. I would certainly find it to be upsetting.

But it makes me at least as upset to think that the Bexley City Council thinks that they can tell me what sentiments I'm allowed to express when I'm standing on a public sidewalk* in my community. I find it incredibly patronizing when Council President Matt Lampke says:

"They can protest in front of the corporation. They don't need to be protesting in front of their residence."

This sounds as if it would be followed up with "And really, do they need to protest at all? They could always write a letter to the editor of their local paper. And they don't need to sound so angry. A nice, short letter to the editor that politely states their disagreement. That would be much better."

The proposed ordinance, at least as described in the media, sounds patently unconstitutional. Perhaps if it passes I'll go picket in front of Matt's house. Anybody know a good pro bono Constitutional lawyer?

*When I read this story I jokingly asserted that I was sure that the impetus had been someone saying that if they were now going to have to pay for their own sidewalk repairs, Council could at least stop people from marching back and forth on it...


Anonymous said...

I find your blog awfully one sided in terms of the truth. You single out Mr. Lampke in terms of picketing his house when it was Jed Morrison that introduced the ordinance and council was in agreement. Are you really advocating for holding an entire family responsible for the actions of one person? Your toddler daughter shouldn't have to be subjected to the actions of her father and certainly not followed while going to the grocery store. I certainly hope council upholds this ordinance because I shouldn't be held responsible for the sins of my father.

bonobo said...

Anon- first allow me to make a request... if you could post comments under a pseudonym instead of posting 'anonymously,' I would appreciate it. This is mainly because discussions often pull in multiple people who wish to remain anonymous, and if they all use the default name "anonymous" it rapidly becomes very confusing to follow.

Thanks for your consideration, now on to your points:

1) I don't understand your initial charge. I'm guessing that you mean I'm sticking to the truth (which is good), but not telling the whole truth (which is bad). You are certainly welcome to your opinion, but I thought I laid out the case for proponents of the legislation fairly well before I expressed my disagreement.

2) I singled out Matt Lampke because a) he was quoted in the article supporting the ordinance, making him a de facto spokesperson for the ordinance, and b) because if it passes it will be because a majority of council voted for it. As I cannot physically picket multiple houses simultaneously, it makes sense for me to single out one person. Jed Morison would be a good candidate, as the person who introduced the ordinance, but Matt Lampke, as President of the Council is an equally attractive selection because he is the best single representative of the council as a whole.

3) I am not advocating anything regarding holding anybody responsible for anything. I'm advocating for the right of people to express their opinions in public places. You could stand in front of my house and demand that the Blue Jackets sign a decent Center for Rick Nash. Nobody in my family is responsible for them failing to do so, but that has nothing to do with your right to express your opinion while standing on the sidewalk. On the other hand, nothing in the proposed ordinance would allow me to picket if I could, in fact, prove that Matt Lampke's entire family played a role in the passage of the ordinance. It is simply irrelevant.

4) Stand on a sidewalk and express your opinion - that's your first amendment right. Follow my daughter to the store, you're on much shakier ground. Picketing a house is not harassment, stalking, or making a threat- in and of itself. Those things are already prohibited by law, no matter where they take place.

5) If your issue with the ordinance is that you should not be held responsible for the sins of your father, why not introduce an ordinance prohibiting anyone within the city limits of Bexley from holding children responsible for the sins of their parents?

6) Finally, although I'm not saying I wouldn't do such a thing, my suggestion that I might picket Matt Lampke's house was primarily to make a rhetorical point. I certainly have nothing but contempt for protesters who are attempting to limit access to legal procedures by harassing the professionals who perform them. But putting a blanket ban on sidewalk signs in front of residences goes too far. While I would never consider yelling hateful things at the Lampke children (or at Matt, for that matter), I would certainly consider a symbolic protest such as the one I suggested. I don't think that such an example of political speech expressed by an individual on public property should be a criminal offense. Furthermore, I am doubtful that an ordinance can be crafted that merely closes loopholes in existing laws without encroaching on behavior that we shouldn't and in fact cannot ban.