Tag Archive: free speech

We expect better than this from Democrats

“I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to my death your right to say it” – Patrick Henry

You may be familiar with that quote, or the one below:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to The United States Constitution

These are very basic guiding values in this Country. Free speech – regardless of how popular or unpopular it may be viewed as, not suppressing voices that you don’t agree with. But up in the Fifth Congressional District, at least one Candidate, Adam Gussen, seems to think that “free speech” should be based on an artificial and undefined “filter”.

A bit of backstory for those who aren’t familiar with the Fifth District – as of now, there are three candidates, Gussen (the Deputy Mayor of Teaneck, which is new to the District), Jason Castle, a veteran who did not obtain enough signatures to be put on the Bergen County Democratic ballot, and Diane Sare, a LaRouche Democrat who is running in the primary because the LaRouche Party couldn’t get a separate line on the ballot. But all three are running.

Now, Sare’s views aren’t all that popular with the Democratic establishment, and they may not be all that popular in general – she is calling for the impeachment of Obama but also is looking to restore the Glass-Steagall Act, which has a lot of merit. But I don’t want to discuss her candidacy here, since I don’t know enough about it. I want to discuss the defense of free but objectionable (I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt as objectionable for now regardless of whether it actually is) speech by the Democratic Party – especially those who are running for Federal office.

In the article linked above, it was reported that Gussen said the following about Sare:

“I find the LaRouche platforms and their candidates to be offensive and destructive.

“I think that the Democratic Party, while honoring and giving life to the ideals and concepts of free speech, that there is a reasonable level of filtering that could take place. This is noise that should be filtered out,”

Now, I’m not sure where there is a way to find out exactly where the tipping point is for “reasonable filtering” of free speech. For example, let’s say that Sare is calling for impeachment of Obama, and cites his signing of NDAA, which allowed for the indefinite detainment of US citizens on American soil without trial. Did Gussen think it was ok to call for Bush’s impeachment for that very same thing, but it isn’t ok if it is Obama? What is so destructive and offensive that it can trump the suppression of First Amendment rights – especially by a Congressional Candidate?

Now, this isn’t to say that I am supporting Jason Castle or Diane Sare. But it does set off an alarm that a DEMOCRATIC Congressional Candidate supports the suppression of free speech based on arbitrary adjectives such as “destructive” or “offensive”. Perhaps it is the mere calling for suppression of free speech that is destructive and offensive.

Occupy Trenton – Court Orders A Malleable Interpretation of Free Speech

In the Occupy Trenton case, after Judge Mary Jacobson (Mercer County Superior Court) issued her “reasons” for granting “limited, temporary relief,” she later published more detailed specific orders which paint a less rosy picture for the occupants and their rights to free speech. The “Orders” impose difficulties in maintaining a 24/7 presence and live streaming. There will be a further court hearing on December 19 on the occupants’ lawsuit (Docket C-72-11) seeking a temporary injunction.

The good news is that the State Troopers must return the confiscated occupants’ property by November 14. Also the the troopers are restrained from enforcing the rules in the Zawacki  letter (created on the fly), but with significant exceptions which prohibit occupants from:

  • Erecting structures in the park (such as a tent for shelter against the cold)

  • Accessing electrical outlets in the park (even though they have agreed to pay the electric bill)

  • Use of a gas generator (important for operating media equipment to maintain live streaming which occupants had argued was an important component of their right to free speech.)

    The court further ordered that they may maintain a continuous 24 hour presence in the  park but that “nothing in this order shall be construed to let them sleep in the park,”  which conjures up images of them being evicted or arrested if they fall asleep at night.

    Edward Anthony Salter, a stalwart, articulate occupant since Day 1, said this morning he has not yet sorted out the issues nor figured out the consequences of the judge’s orders. Occupants today have been discussing less attractive alternatives to the important gas generator, including solar and bicycle driven. Edward pointed out they do have an identified location as a second venue for a tent city in a larger park. He added, “We have an injunction, but one with double talk. This stuff is easy to overcome, but as a result of the orders there is so much tactical, complicated work we will have to do. It’s unfortunate that even the State Troopers will have to deal with this lack of clarity. There needs to be more clarity.” Kevin Riordan published a thoughtful profile of Edward in today’s Philly.com, which Edward particularly liked because “it deals with actual people.”  

  • Mitt Romney, Chris Christie & Occupy Philly

    Hey, boys and girls!

    Mitt Romney, that colorless and flavorless probable consensus candidate the GOP will likely settle for once enough Republicans figure out the libertarian says too many things that horrify them, or give them the wild giggles (just google Santorum), and once they get tired of the party video, and that crazy-eyes lady who says she created the Tea Party sputters quietly down, and that ignorant, sexually harrassing lobbyist-in-a-hat has been kicked back to Ubecki-becki-becki-becki-stan-stan and … um, where was I? oh.

    But I digress. Mitt Romney will be the likely sad-assed leftover eventual candidate of the GOP largely because that magical Republican, Gov. Chris Christie, has sprinkled his more interesting fairy dust on him. There’s no word whether Christie hisself will be meeting up with Mitt when Romney zooms up close to the Jersey border tonight, because Christie doesn’t always tell us regular people when he leaves the state to do his political voodoo. But Romney will be at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philly tonight to raise big bucks for his campaign. If there’s one thing we know our Guv likes to be near it’s Republicans with fat checkbooks, but we have no word he’ll be there.

    But we do know who will be.

    Occupy your law books, New Jersey

    Ed is the Legal Director for ACLU-NJ – an invaluable institution in this state. I’d recommend the 2 .pdf’s he includes below the fold to anyone. A citizenry aware of its rights is a beautiful thing. Good luck today! – JG

    A day after New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg threatened to make Occupy Wall Street abandon their belongings, he relented. Unfortunately, when New Jersey State Police came to do the same, Occupy Trenton wasn’t so lucky.

    On day seven of Occupy Trenton at the World War II Memorial plaza, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs gave protesters new rules: protesters must attend to their property – which may not include camping or “picnicking” items – at all times.

    On day eight, authorities took away protest signs, electronic equipment, laptops and coolers, aided by the State Police, who held onto the items they confiscated.

    But here’s one thing the protesters have that the police don’t: the law – and the ACLU – on their side.

    Viki Knox: Where Garden State Equality Gets It Right

    As the author of two diaries, here and here, taking issue with Garden State Equality’s response to the Viki Knox situation, Scott Weingart might like to reply to this. But I wanted to frontpage Steven’s response diary asap. Can there be two more important issues for us to concern ourselves with than discrimination and free speech? – promoted by Rosi

    A bit more than 32 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, my classmates and I went out to dinner toward the end of the year with one of our teachers.  At the dinner, the teacher spewed anti-Semitic hate that left us in shock.   My classmates and I, joined by our parents, led a campaign asking the school to take action, and within a couple of weeks, the school let the teacher go.

    Our teacher had the First Amendment right to free speech.  So, too, did the school have the right to act.  The school believed the teacher’s hateful comments compromised the ability of students to feel safe and comfortable in the teacher’s presence.  

    Fast forward to 2011, when Viki Knox, a teacher at Union High School, posted this on Facebook:  “Homosexuality is a perverted spirit that has existed from the beginning of creation.   I know sin and it breeds like cancer!   I/we do not have to accept anything, anyone, any behavior or any choices!  I do not have to tolerate anything others wish to do.”  

    Facebook, of course, did not exist when my teacher had dinner with us students in 1979.  But the situations are parallel, except that Ms. Knox’s invective reached more students, and she stated she teaches it.  As Ms. Knox wrote amidst the anti-LGBT invective she posted on Facebook: “THAT’S WHAT I TEACH AND PREACH.”  The all caps are hers.

    In calling for the strongest possible personnel action to be taken against Ms. Knox, the Star-Ledger wrote in an editorial:   “She fired up a computer, identified herself as a Union High School teacher and posted bigoted remarks on Facebook – more than once.   She might as well have hopped on a soapbox across the street from the school and screamed her anti-gay rant into a bullhorn.  She created a fearful, hostile environment for students. That’s unacceptable.”

    More after the jump.

    Strange Bedfellows (and Pillow Talk) in Trenton

    Happy 50th Birthday, ACLU-NJ. – promoted by Rosi Efthim

    Monday was another weird one in Trenton.

    It’s unusual for the ACLU to testify on the same side as groups like New Jersey Right to Life and New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. But on Monday, I had the exceptional experience of testifying alongside Marie Tasy and John Tomicki (of those respective organizations) on not just one bill, but two.

    Disclosure or disaster? When censorship wears the disguise of transparency.

    In an attempt to address the lack of transparency required of 501c4 organizations that run issue-advocacy ads during election season (think swift boat ads), A2595 goes too far by requiring 501 c4 and c3 organizations doing advocacy work unrelated to electoral politics to reveal their members’ private information. While the ACLU-NJ understands the importance of disclosure, if passed this bill would put a stranglehold on our free speech and association rights, and create administrative nightmares for already overburdened organizations.

    For example, if the League of Women Voters spent more than $2,100 to provide information in a non-partisan effort to educate voters, under A2595 it would have to disclose names and other information about any donor to the organization who gives over $300. This is true even if the League provided information simply listing the candidates in each district or describing the public questions on the ballot.

    Likewise, if the American Cancer Society or Muscular Dystrophy Association wanted to give an award at their annual gala to a legislator for his or her work in their area of interest, and the organization spent over $2,100 in printing programs and invitations containing information relating to the legislator’s accomplishments, that organization would have to disclose the names and personal information of any donors giving over $300.

    The ACLU-NJ and NJ Right to Life, as well as other non-partisan, issue-oriented organizations across the spectrum, lined up to speak out against this bill. Even the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) objected to including 501c3 and c4 organizations in the bill. Assembly Judiciary Chair and primary sponsor of A2595 Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein decided to take the bill back to the drawing board.

    ‘Adopting’ Broad Coalitions in the Fight for Birth Parents’ Privacy

    After the hearing on the disclosure bill had finished, our motley crew of advocates headed over to the Assembly Human Services Committee for part two of strange bedfellows at the State House. This time, the issue was the privacy rights of birth parents who wish to maintain the confidentiality state law has protected for decades.

    For at least 50 years, New Jersey law has required that adoption records be sealed. Currently, anyone seeking adoption records must meet the courts’ “good cause” standard to get access (which generally requires a pressing medical need).  

    Impassioned adult adoptees have formed a lobby to gain access to their original birth certificates, which include the names of their birth parents. The adoptees worked with Senator Joe Vitale to develop a hot messy sausage called S799/A1406, which would open the records so that adult adoptees who requested them could receive their original birth certificates and their birth parents’ names (see bullet points on problems with the bill below).

    While we are sympathetic to the adult adoptees, the privacy rights of birth mothers who do not wish to have their names revealed must also carry weight.

    I have received a number of anonymous letters from women explaining their situations and thanking us for our work on this issue. Several who wrote became pregnant through rape, incest and trauma, and they fear having those parts of their pasts suddenly resurrected by an unexpected knock on the door.

    Follow to the jump for more.

    Sorry, but a Recall is not Free Speech

    The “Tea Party” seems be doing pretty poorly in court hearing on their recall:

    “The state is trying to draw a bright-line rule completely excluding all possibilities,” said Daniel Silberstein, a Clark attorney representing the recall committee. “We are not arguing today for Senator Menendez’s recall. We are arguing simply for the right to express our dissatisfaction with Senator Menendez.”…

    While Silberstein argued the case was about allowing “core political speech” by way of New Jersey’s secretary of state approving the recall notice, Menendez attorney Marc E. Elias of Washington, D.C., and state Deputy Attorney General Donna Kelly said the parts of a recall cannot be parsed and the whole effort is unconstitutional. They cited the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says federal law trumps a conflicting state law.

    This is ridiculous. Tea Partiers, like anyone, can go gather petitions in person — or online — all they like. Petition for Menendez to resign. Petition for him to vote against the budget. Petition for a recall. Petition for Exxon to spend $10 million attacking him. Whatever they like. Having a petition trigger a recall is what is at stake, and that is arguably unconstitutional. Besides the Idaho precedent we discussed before, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled term limits for Congress unconstitutional, and that is a very similar issue.

    Pay-To-Play Going Away?

    With the Citizens United decision, the SCOTUS allowed the direct influx of corporate money into the electoral process.  This decision also allowed unions to make the same monetary donations as corporations.

    Up against this is Gov. Christie’s executive order prohibiting unions from making political donations, ostensibly because unions are exempt from “pay-to-play” rules.  In response, CWA District 1 has filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of Christie’s executive order.  But instead of relying on Citizens United, their basis is that they should not be equated with businesses, since they do not do business with the state.

    In my opinion, they would have a better case relying on the Citizens United decision (no matter what one may think about it), which would trump anything on the state level, perhaps pay-to-play rules as well.  

    This SCOTUS decision may have the effect of striking down “pay-to-play” rules as an abridgment of the free speech of corporations.  Who knows what else may be in its path?

    ACLU critical of Booker with report card giving him a C

    aclunewarkreportcardThe ACLU released their report card yesterday grading Mayor Booker and the city of Newark on four criteria: Immigrant rights, Open Government, Free Speech and Police Practices. The report card is the first prepared by the ACLU on a specific city, and focused on Newark, because it is the state’s largest city.

    They were very critical of the police practices in Newark and also tough on the city regarding the free speech analysis.  You can see the whole report for their concerns and analysis.

    Mayor Booker wasn’t thrilled with the Report Card results:

    Booker last week said he welcomed, “constructive input on how to get better,” but said the report card failed to recognize progress that was being made in addressing ACLU concerns. He noted that ACLU had been given a level of access to city officials the agency never had under his predecessor, former Mayor Sharpe James.

    “We think we’ve made some pretty incredible strides,” Booker said.


    Booker said a B grade for open government was “outrageous,” after he pushed for reinstatement of a citizen’s right to speak at city council meetings.

    The city, also under the Booker administration, the mayor said, created a constituent concerns office, has heard residents at open-office-hour events around the city, established the state’s first “4311,” information line, for non-emergency citizen issues, and even has used the social networking website, Twitter.com, to communicate with residents.

    And there was additional criticism of the report:

    Julian Neals, Newark’s Corporation Counsel, said the low grade on police practices alone was unwarranted because the lawsuits remain unresolved.

    “It’s like giving somebody a final grade during mid-term season,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit premature.”

    I’ve seen him talk about many of these issues, but the ACLU doesn’t feel like the actions have backed up all of his words. Even the Mayor himself acknowledges regularly that there is more work to do, but he seemed pretty disappointed by this report as not giving credit for the strides they have already made. He just doesn’t seem to see some of the points as constructive criticism.

    Lawrence not ready to give up rat fight

    Inflatable RatTwo weeks ago, the NJ Supreme Court upheld free speech.  Here is what Hopeful said at the time summarizing the case:

    The New Jersey Supreme court has ruled that unions may use an inflatable rat at protests.  Lawrence Township had fined a union for violating a sign ordinance that banned inflatable signs, except for the all-important purpose of a grand opening.  (The union had been protesting at a local health club.) The court ruled that the ordinance “violates the First Amendment right to free speech and is overbroad.”

    But rather than let the matter be settled, they have decided to try and “fix” the ordinance:

    But township attorney Kevin Nerwinski interjected, saying the matter had been upheld in lower courts, and it was a matter of defending the township ordinance that was passed in the early 1990s.

    Though only a portion of the ordinance was declared unconstitutional, Nerwinski said he would take a look at the rest of the law. The ban on inflatable balloons had been a public safety issue, and Nerwinski said township officials “want to make sure where protest activity takes place, it doesn’t endanger people or property.”

    So an inflatable rat poses more of a danger than a grand opening balloon for a new business?  That prompted this response:

    Nick Mellis, a Lawrence resident and chair of the Green Party of New Jersey, questioned how much money the township spent “to defend the undefendable when it was obvious people have a right to protest peacefully.” Mellis added, “I can’t wait until you revise the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”

    Maybe there isn’t anything else going on that they can just keep spending time and money on this issue. Apparently this matter is still to be continued, despite the ruling of the state’s highest court.