Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11, The Day the First Amendment Died

Some folks will think of this date as the day American government officials conspired to draw America into international conflicts by killing nearly 3,000 of their own.I've watched several of the "inside job" conspiracy videos and have not found anything credible. I am open to being convinced.

Yet, as a federal constitutional law and civil rights attorney, I understand, and hope you will, how badly damaged our Nation was -- above and beyond the death toll -- in the exercise of our civil rights and liberties.

Not only did the Patriot Act authorize the continuing and increasing surveillance of Americans (lest my Republican friends think I'm blaming all this activity on Bush, lest my Democrat friends think that they are off the hook, you should read up on the Clinton era Carnivore and Echelon programs, which you can do starting at pages such as this one), the claimed need to protect government officials led to the adoption of rules by the US Marshal's Service, the Secret Service, the Supreme Court police, and other federal policing agencies, that resulted in removing peaceful demonstrators from the line of sight of government officials attending public events.

For example, Reverend Patrick Mahoney​, my long time client, and several others, were arrested when they engaged in prayer and the display of signs on the public sidewalk across from the entrance to the Cathedral of St. Matthew, in Washington, DC, on the morning of the annual Red Mass. You can read the decidedly constitution-free decision of Judge Royce Lamberth in which Mahoney's pleas for respect for the freedom of speech fall on security-deafened ears here.

Mahoney began his vigils on Red Mass mornings to communicate his concern over the banning of Ten Commandments. The immediate concern he addressed was the incident in which Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court placed such a monument in the rotunda of that State's Supreme Court. In the post 9/11 era, the Supreme Court police and the Secret Service created giant, city-block sized "speech free" zones.

Within those zones, individuals could walk, talk, ride bikes, walk dogs, drink coffee, wait for buses, make phone calls, wave to friends, hail cabs, and all the other typical and expected human behaviors of daily life in an urban setting. BUT WHAT THEY COULD NOT DO is seek to communicate a message on what they considered to be an important public issue to government officials passing through the "speech free zone."

To communicate, Reverend Mahoney and others had to move out of the exclusion zone, away from lines of sight of government officials, and stay within a holding "pen" like they were stockyard bound livestock. While the bulk of my post 9/11 experience with government restrictions on free speech involved cases of religious speech or pro-life speech, the ACLU also cataloged the deleterious impact of the government's unflinching assertion of security interests on core political speech activities too.

So, yes, I mourn the lives lost.

But more so, I mourn that the meaning of those lives lost is disregard for our essential liberties by the courts, the police, and government officials.