The First Amendment Tasered

I’ve been considering the Tasering of student Andrew Meyer during an appearance by Sen. John Kerry at the University of Florida since I first heard about it.  Some of the first accounts sought to discredit Meyer right away, asserting that based on videos he had posted previously on You Tube, this may have been a stunt.

Nevertheless, here was a man Tasered in the United States of America.  As a refresher, here’s the Amendment placed First in the Bill of Rights:

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.

Now, freedom of speech does not mean that we get to say what we want to say where we want to say it all the time.   If I started shouting the the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, as did this “Christian” person when a Hindu chaplain was invited to pray, I would be removed.  And, no, this is not a violation of my right to free speech.

But tasering someone asking a question?   This is troubling.

The weird right has sought to criticize Senator Kerry, and that’s just wrong.  He was completely innocent in this case.  This was a choice of the police.

Joe Conason comments on the tasering in Salon.com, making reference to the recently unearthed “how to stop free speech” manual from the White House:

As Matthews noted on Tuesday evening, the Bush White House standardized those methods for squelching speech in a manual for presidential advance teams. “By the way, 80 percent of the country disagrees with him,” Matthews quipped, “so you’ve got to have this manual handy.” Then he quoted a telling section: “If demonstrators appear likely to cause only a political disruption, it is the advance person’s responsibility to take appropriate action. Rally squads should be dispatched to surround and drown out demonstrators immediately.”

That October 2002 manual — obtained in heavily redacted form last June by the American Civil Liberties Union in the course of litigation against the Bush administration — includes copious instructions for ensuring that dissension need never be seen nor heard. Its repetitive themes include “the best method for preventing demonstrators,” “deterring potential protestors from attending events,” and “designat[ing] a protest area … preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route.” Potential protesters are to be ignored only “if it is determined that the media will not see or hear” them.

Unfortunately for the White House, such strategies are patently unconstitutional and violate several provisions of the Bill of Rights. It is unlawful to bar individuals from public events because they have the wrong bumper stickers on their cars, or wear the wrong T-shirts, or belong to the wrong organizations, or have written the wrong letters to the editor of their local newspaper, as the president’s advance agents have repeatedly done over the past six years.

This will be a country in recover for some time after these Bush Republicans are gone from the White House.  They’ve done more damage than trash the economy, the dollar, and raise the national debt to an obscene $9 Trillion and counting.