Denver residents Leslie Weise and Alex Young allege in a lawsuit filed this week that their First Amendment rights were violated when they were removed from a March 21 "town hall meeting" with President Bush. The reason for their removal: a bumper sticker on their car.
It's the latest battle over First Amendment rights. The question, argued in several different cases around the country, is simple: Do Americans have the right to dissent? Do Americans have the right to attend political events if there's a chance they will dissent?
First Amendment issues have popped up across the country over the past year. A Wisconsin man was arrested last year for holding up a sign as a presidential motorcade drove by. A married couple was removed from a Bush event last summer in West Virginia after revealing that they were wearing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited last fall by the Secret Service for having an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car.
This spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art-gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps — one depicted Bush with a gun pointed at his head. And just last month, a Washington State woman was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt.
It makes me think of a speech given by Michael Douglas' character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.
I doubt that movie gets played much at the current White House. This is, after all, an administration that stages events — like the Orwellian-named "town-hall meetings" — with pre-screened audiences signing loyalty oaths.