Free Speech Zones at Conventions: What About the First Amendment?

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Credit: harpers.org

Both political parties will hold their conventions shortly and it’s a certainty that protesters will be isolated and herded into noxious “free speech zones” far from the conventions themselves. This Orwellian practice began in earnest at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston. Protesters were permitted to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech only in a caged area miles from the convention itself, making a mockery of the concept.

The practice has spread widely since then. Both parties are equally guilty in suppressing constitutional freedoms as are too many mayors of cities hosting politically-tinged conventions, corporate meetings, or anything that might draw a protester. The agendas of the political class apparently are not to be interrupted by raucous protest coming from the streets. But this country had its birth in protest by the people against what they saw as out-of-touch, arrogant rulers. Yet today that kind of freedom of speech is increasingly being threatened and muzzled.

When did free speech become something that was only allowable in certain areas chosen by political parties and law enforcement without permission or knowledge of the populace and with no legal authority? The Constitution is quite clear about this. The First Amendment prohibits making of any law that impinges upon freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition for a redress of grievances.

Free speech zones violate all three of these precepts of the Constitution. Worse, these free speech zones aren’t even created by law. They are created extra-legally, decided in secret by law enforcement and the political parties. The will of the people is apparently of little concern to them, nor following the law as written in the US Constitution. Very few if any politicians say anything about this affront to our rights. If they did, perhaps the practice would end.

The trend here since the 2004 Democratic Convention is troubling indeed. Freedom of speech and assembly increasingly continues to be throttled, caged, and marginalized. This is not a partisan issue and should concern us all, especially independent voters who believe the parties wield too much power and authority over the political process. Basic freedoms that have been the cornerstone of this country are no longer guaranteed. The bogeyman of terrorism is used as justification to erode civil liberties.

We need to reverse this trend, and we need to do it now. If it continues unabated then in 10-20 years the lack of freedom in this country will be unrecognizable to us now.

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2 comments
Amos Cooper
Amos Cooper

In 1918 the government actually made illegal to express an opinion that cast them or the war effort in a negative light (this was during World War I).

Heather Rogers
Heather Rogers

I was under the impression that the whole country was a free speech zone... I guess I was misinformed.