Freedom of speech should be allowed at air show
To the Editor:
The May 14 Otsego County Board of Commissioners meeting started with a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, but ended in a vote to trample on our First Amendment right of freedom of political speech.
The board unanimously passed a motion that will ban from June's Wings Over Gaylord air show any signs, posters, banners, etc., containing political expressions of any kind.
The commissioners did not draw any bright line describing what kind of expressions would be deemed to be"political,"although one commissioner suggested it would be any statement supporting political view (e.g.,"Right to Life") or any political candidate.
Although they can't define it, the board will apparently recognize political expression when they see it. That's a lot of power to vest in the board, especially when it inappropriately threatens a right so fundamental that it was given top spot in the Bill of Rights. The board believes reventing air show crowds from being distracted or bothered by political speech is more important than supporting freedom of speech. As one commissioner said:"People come to the air show to have a good time, not to be bothered by politics."
Coincidently, this vote came on the same day as Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City went back to the drawing board on its plan to limit first amendment rights to specified zones of the college campus.
The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported:
"The policy was prompted, in part, by a professional petitioner who gathered signatures in a highly trafficked area at last year's NMC Barbecue. The annual old-fashioned picnic attracts thousands, along with picketers and other folks who want to get their message out. The petitioner initially was asked to leave, but allowed to return to his spot after a city policeman said his activity was within his constitutional rights.
NMC's new policy raised concerns by the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, who said there shouldn't be"constitution-free zones"on campus. The First Amendment provides people the right to gather in public to petition, march, protest, or otherwise express themselves in a nonviolent way."
As U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said in an opinion letter in the May 15 issue of the Gaylord Herald Times:"I am reminded of the words of Benjamin Franklin, who said in 1755,'Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'"
Our county attorneys should wake up and our county commissioners should reconsider their segregation of the air show as a non-free speech zone.
Eric J Lieberman