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Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Bong-hit" speech 4ever, effective speech 2B regulated

Jonah Goldberg write a good article about the really bizarre turn the House of Lords known as the Supreme Court has taken over the First Amendment Free Speech issue.
I commented on this thusly:

How is it that the First Amendment to the Constitution no longer protects political speech but protects nude dancing? Wasn’t the prohibition of nude dancing designed to keep us off the slippery slope of inhibiting political speech? Yet it did not. It appears that there was a way of getting around that roadblock, making the slippery slope a joyride and prohibiting free political expression all the while protecting the right of pole dancers to strut their stuff.

Paul Jacob in makes the same point and it is worth repeating because free POLITICAL SPEECH is critical if we intend to keep our Republic.
Independence Day was nice. My kids enjoyed their sparklers and the public firework displays. The traditions of the July 4th holiday went off without a hitch. Well, that is, except for my yearly reflection on the state of our freedom, our actual independence.

Something just seems a bit off. In some ways, we descendants of Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson enjoy tremendous liberty. In other ways, well, not so much.

For instance, we possess an untrammeled right to burn the American flag. Forget the fire code: Government cannot regulate it. The First Amendment robustly protects such politically symbolic speech.

But what good does this do me? I just don’t have any desire to burn the flag.

And consider: Had just one Supreme Court justice switched sides in a recent First Amendment case, a public high school student would now be able to hold up a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at all school events.

Sure, I know it’s hard to accept such smothering censorship. But, again, I’m really not a “banner person.”

What I am, I guess, is a “petition person.” I often work to petition my government. Among the many issues I’ve placed before my fellow citizens, for their practical attention, have been measures to check government spending, cut taxes, term-limit politicians, protect property owners from eminent domain abuse, or any number of other reforms.

This isn’t symbolic speech, mind you, but speech designed to have a very real effect on the government. Moreover, the right to petition is mentioned outright in the First Amendment, while the Constitution’s framers plum forgot to mention flag burning or banners about bong hits.

But when it comes to petitions, our legislators seem to take the opposite tack. They constantly regulate (read: restrict . . . or even abridge) our rights.

In Oregon, the legislature wants to require those who wish to gather petitions for voter initiatives to register with the state and then go through government training classes. What impact the new regulatory regime would have is unclear, except for raising, quite considerably, the cost of putting a measure on the ballot.

On the other hand, flag-burners certainly don’t need to register with anyone. Or even be trained in fire safety. Apparently, citizens gathering the signatures of fellow citizens to directly address the functioning of government is a more “dangerous” act than setting something on fire in a public place.

In South Dakota, a new law went into effect last week forbidding initiative campaigns from paying those who circulate their petition on the basis of the number of signatures collected. Instead, petition circulators must, if paid, be paid by the hour.

Why? Legislators claim the purpose of the ban is to prevent fraud, even though they cannot show any evidence of fraud related to the method of payment. The only certain result is, once again, to dramatically raise the cost of putting a ballot measure before the voters.

Similar laws have been enacted in Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon and Wyoming.

In Alaska, petition circulators can be paid on a per signature basis. But by law, not more than a single dollar per signature. Paying a dollar-fifty is illegal.

Read the rest.

I'm sure that the Editors of the Virginian Pilot would find that these limitations on the right to petition to be logical and just. But burning the flag? That has them at the free-speech barricades.

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