Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gene Policinski: Free speech shouldn't be confined to a 'zone'

  Note to city officials in Howell, Mich., who are considering a so-called “free speech zone”:

  Please set aside whatever paperwork you may have in your hands at this very moment. Hang up the phone. Take a break from that discussion. Walk to the nearest window that gives you a good view of your city.

  The First Amendment provides that those streets, public sidewalks and green spaces that you see are all unrestricted, unlimited, undefined free-speech zones. No new designations, dotted lines or bureaucratic definitions needed. The nation’s Founders took care of that paperwork more than 200 years ago.

  According to news reports, City Manager Shea Charles says the proposed zones would be close to events and happenings, but would “prevent people from walking through festivals with graphically inappropriate signs.” Charles also described the zones as “places where people could speak their minds.”

  Charles also said, according to a report in the Livingston Daily, "We're not trying to stop people from voicing their opinions. There's just some things that come out that people may not want their children to see."

  As it happens, there’s a far less-intrusive, easier to enforce and constitutionally sound method of dealing with “graphically inappropriate” signs that you don’t want to see:  Look the other way.

  About the author: Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. S., Nashville, Tenn., 37212. Web: E-mail:

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