Tonawanda News


September 18, 2012

CONFER: The assault on free speech


So, in response to that long-simmering complaint, city attorney Joe Pelych crafted a law that – just like post-9/11 terrorism efforts —uses one incident to justify government actions that would wipe out over 200 years of civilized liberty. Under the proposed law, the city would provide “a designated public forum for individuals and groups to exercise their free speech rights.” It said that “it shall be unlawful for any individual or group of individuals to gather, remain, walk or stand upon any given street or sidewalk in the City of Hornell to protest, support or exercise free speech by voice, sign or any other means unless they are in the designated area as defined by law.” To that end, it required that anyone interested in speaking in that area needed to first file an application with the Mayor’s office and that they could not use voice amplifiers unless authorized. Violators would have been hit with $250 in fines or 15 days in jail.

Basically, the law would have abridged the freedom of speech to the point that any parties in disagreement with the government would first have to petition that government for the right to peaceful assembly in protest of that government in a public setting. The Council could, at its whim, deny assembly and arrest anyone involved in the unpermitted expression of supposedly-free speech. Not to sound clichéd, but that’s what you’d expect out of North Korea or Nazi Germany. The Founding Fathers must have been rolling in their graves.

Luckily, common sense prevailed. A few dozen people protested the rule and Mayor Shawn Hogan and his council struck the proposal in the Law and Ordinance Committee. But, even so, they definitely had the intent to push the law: Why did it get as far as it did, to the written stage, and not just stay a bad idea? They even matter-of-factly compared it to the designated free speech zones around political conventions. But, a whole city as a free (read “restricted”) speech zone?

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