â€œWe the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.â€
Thus begins perhaps the most brilliant governing document ever written: the United States Constitution. For all of the strife and controversy surrounding this nation, the U.S. Constitution stands as a bright beacon for democracy. It is a living, dynamic document that directs the government of this country.
One of the brilliancies of the U.S. Constitution is its declared ability to be amended, and the first ten amendments constitute the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S Constitution states:
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.
The United States Supreme Court, by the authority granted to it by the U.S. Constitution, long ago ruled that freedom of speech was not just about the verbally spoken word, but also included all forms of expression, such as the written word, art, dance, song, displays, etc. And yes, Virginia, that includes Tee-shirts.
When the president of the US is sworn in every 4 years, he/she swears an oath to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States. In fact, it is fair to state that this is the presidentâ€™s first duty of office, to ensure that the Constitution, with all its amendments, and all the Supreme Court interpretations, is complied with. After all, if the Constitution is not complied with by the top leader of the country, what value does it have?
So what does it say that the president of the United States, George W Bush, makes sure through his White House â€œadvance officialsâ€, that no dissenting citizen gets to express himself/herself during publicly viewed and press-attended speaking engagements of the president?
On July 4, 2004 (Independence day celebrating the U.S. Declaration of Independence signed in 1776), W. Bush gave a speech in Charleston, West Virginia, stating in his speech, â€œâ€¦”On this Fourth of July, we confirm our love of freedom, the freedom for people to speak their minds. … Free thought, free expression, that’s what we believe,”
W. Bushâ€™s words ring a bit hollow, when you consider that a couple showed up wearing tee-shirts that were unflattering to the president. Jeffery and Nicole Rank wore the shirts, both of which were adorned in the front with the word â€œBushâ€ in a circle with a slash through it; the back of Jefferyâ€™s shirt had the words â€œRegime Change Begins at homeâ€ and the back of Nicoleâ€™s shirt said â€œLove America, Hate Bushâ€.
Free Expression, right? HMmmm. Maybe not, if your message disagrees with the top leader of the country. The Bush â€œadvance officialsâ€, working with the local police, told the Ranks to either take off the shirts, turn them inside out, or leave. The Ranks insisted upon their First Amendment Rights to freely express themselves (on public property, no less), and were subsequently handcuffed, arrested and charged with trespass. Thatâ€™s right, folks. Trespass! On public property during a presidential speech, on Independence dayâ€¦in the United States!
It boggles the mind. But wait! Thereâ€™s more!
The charges were later dropped. However, the White House â€œadvance officials were later sued by the Ranks for violation of their First Amendment Rights, and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union, and thank the stars for them!) stepped in to assist the ranks. And a week or so ago, the U.S. Government settled the case for $80,000 (US).
Thatâ€™s $80,000 of your and my taxpayer dollars, folks.
As badly as this single case reflects the US and spotlights the hypocrisy of the Bush administration in its flagrant disregard for the most important document of democracy in history whenever the Constitution gets in the way of its agenda, it is not an isolated case.
There are many documented cases of Constitutional abuses by the Bush administration. Some are similar to this one, involving attempts at subverting the right of individuals and organizations to freely express themselves in public, press-covered venues. Others are more insidious: the suspension of basic constitutional and federal rights, such as suspension of habeas corpus (either charge me or release me), the right to a speedy trial, protection from warrant-less surveillanceâ€¦the list goes on and on.
But, somehow, when the attack is against the most basic of rights, i.e., the right of a peaceful U.S. citizen to publicly disagree with Bush during a public Independence Day speech on public property where the president is supposedly celebrating freedom of expression in his public, press-covered speech, it really crosses over into the arena of utter dictatorial arrogance.
As Sinclair Lewis, the American novelist (1885-1951) wrote, â€œWhen fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.â€