Government is violating basic rights

The Daily Progress

This kind of nonsense should drive every patriotic American up the wall.

An area resident was forced by park rangers to leave a public Revolutionary War battlefield — where his ancestors fought, by the way — because his car carried a political sticker.

The man complained to the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, which has written the National Park Service to demand that rangers be educated about the First Amendment, not to mention the service’s own regulations.

This violation of basic rights is so outrageous that one might wonder how it could even occur.

It happens when people become ignorant about their freedoms, complacent about their liberties and uninvolved in the struggle to protect those rights and freedoms. It happens when society grows so insensible that such infringements seem normative. Neither the perpetrators nor the public understand that something egregious has occurred.

Jack Faw understood — and acted.

Mr. Faw is a frequent visitor to Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina. Earlier this month, he was ordered to leave the park because his car carried a decal promoting a local organization connected to Rep. Ron Paul.

“This type of censorship is what you would expect in some foreign regime, not a public park in America,” said John W. Whitehead, Rutherford’s president. Americans do not forfeit their free-speech rights when they enter a public park, he noted.

Indeed, one would expect that on public property especially, free speech would be honored as one of the public’s First Amendment rights.

And beyond this, one would expect that at a park commemorating a battlefield in the war that established a nation based on liberty — with its Declaration of Independence and its Bill of Rights — free speech would be all the more cherished.

Ironically, just last week a court settled another case based on free expression rights in a public park — and not in the public’s favor. An appellate judge ruled against a woman who, three years ago, celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s birthday with a handful of her friends by silently dancing at the Jefferson Memorial.

No music was audible to others — the dance occurred at midnight, in any case, so few others were even there. Still, she and her friends were told to stop, and the woman was arrested when she refused. A court agreed that the dancing was “conspicuous” and “distracting” and the dancers’ persistence “interfered” with a public agency. Well, now.

Last week, this newspaper was approached by a citizen who wished to submit a letter to the editor. When told that much of the letter could not be published because of legal constraints, he asked: “What about freedom of speech?”

We hear this over and over again, month after month, year after year, from readers and writers who assumed they could speak their minds as they wished.

And year after year, our elected leaders keep tightening the gag.

Yes, some of the restrictions make sense. Many don’t seem, at first glance, to be all that onerous. The Virginia General Assembly adopted several more such restrictions this year.

But, year after year, they add up. They add up to a loss of individual freedom — and an increase in government power.

The time for the public to pay attention, to fight back, to complain to legislators about free-speech restrictions is before the restrictions are passed. It is painful to see public freedoms slowly being nibbled away by public “servants.” It is all the more distressing when the public doesn’t even notice or care.

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