ACLU Investigates Censorship in Juneau
Last week, on two consecutive days, an assortment of government vans from at least two different entities, parked in front of the Capitol building in Juneau, blocking protesters who had come with signs to demonstrate. The protesters had been clearly visible from certain offices in the Capitol.
Joe Miller’s blog describes the situation as reported by en eyewitness:
“The trucks were parked across the street from the capital building, in the “active loading and unloading zone” and in the road congesting traffic, obviously in answer to a command to block the protesters. There were witnesses at the protest who heard the commands being given to the drivers of the trucks. When one of the drivers left his truck there, he looked at the protesters and said “Just doing what I was told, sorry”. The trucks were left in place for at least an hour and a half. Someone observing the situation, Ted Deats, went into the capital and told Senator John Coghill’s office about what was being done. After Senator Coghill’s office called Commissioner Becky Holtberg, the vehicles were removed. Later that day, when we were sitting in our rental van, the same Department of Administration truck drove by, and the driver gestured at us that he was keeping his eye on us.”
The whole incident has been a remarkable thought exercise in Constitutional rights, and an opportunity to test personal beliefs and commitments.
The protesters were not there with “It’s Our Oil” signs, they were there with bloody and graphic pictures of mangled fetuses. They were there to protest abortion. You can argue that this type of protest does nothing to endear the cause to moderates. You can argue that it angers people, more than it persuades. You can argue that it traumatizes groups of school children touring the Capitol. You can argue that they are on the wrong side of the issue. But as the law stands now, you cannot argue their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble at the steps of their seat of power. The Capitol belongs to them too.
And yes, I did blur the image above. And no, I’m not stomping on the First Amendment. I’m simply choosing to make the point the way I see fit, and consider appropriate. Which is also my Constitutional right. See how that works both ways?
For progressives in Alaska, this is our Fred Phelps issue. This is where the rubber meets the road. Each political party has their own favorite Constitutional amendments, and others the prefer not to think about. The right clings to the second and the tenth, and the left has the first and the fourteenth.
So, if lovers of the first amendment have the conviction of their principles, they will remember the quote attributed to Voltaire:
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
So, if social progressives can suck it up and realize that these people have just as much right to wave their signs as the Westboro Baptist Temple does to tell us “God Hates Fags,” as we do to promote marriage equality and reproductive choice, then the question becomes, who sent the vans (which are publicly owned) to block the protesters? Drivers of the vans said they were just following orders. Whose?
The Governor, the Senate Majority, and the House Majority are all Republican. And yet, the anti-choice position tends to also be Republican. But as we know, the Alaska GOP has been vigorously passing the ketchup and cannibalizing itself in a very public way. The “old guard” Republicans who are more moderate on social issues but deeply corrupt corporate tools vs. the “new guard” of Ron Paul devotees who tend to be on the whacky fringe of social issues but appear to value integrity and honesty in government. It’s a pickle. Which goes well with ketchup.
So, if the left has to swallow the unpleasantness of defending people they vehemently disagree with, the right has to swallow this: The ACLU is on their side.
Sorry Tea Party. You’re just going to have to admit it. Repeat after me. Ready?
a partisan organization
(a partisan organization)
There. You did very well. And thank you.
Of course, the ACLU has often been on the side of the political right, but it’s much easier, when fighting for your own anti-Constitutional beliefs on occasion, to call the ACLU a bunch of liberal hacks. Sorry folks, they fight for your rights too.
Yesterday, the ACLU of Alaska asked the Governor’s Office and the Alaska Department of Administration to share the public records of how, for 45 minutes on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, official vehicles from the Department of Administration blocked the protest.
“The First Amendment comes first for a reason: we will vigorously defend the right of all activists to peacefully protest and present their views,” said Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. He continued, “While we support a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive choice, everyone has the right to peacefully protest and the government may not pick and choose who gets to speak. We are happy that Governor Parnell said this censorship was ‘totally inappropriate,’ and we agree, but we still need to know how and why the Department of Administration thought that it was okay to park its vehicles in front of these peaceful protestors. Today’s public records request is the first step to ensure this will not happen again.”
The ACLU also asked for the policies that led the Department of Administration to block these protestors. “We want to know why some state employees thought this was the right thing to do,” said Joshua A. Decker, the ACLU of Alaska attorney who sent today’s request, “and we want to make sure that the State is writing new procedures to make sure this is the last time Alaska blocks free, peaceful speech.”
Under Alaska law, the Governor’s Office and the Department of Administration normally have 10 working days to respond to public records requests. They must also turn over copies of all public records, unless those records are legally privileged or subject to one of the narrow exceptions to the Alaska Public Records Act – for instance if they contain personal private information about an individual, or discuss deliberative process, or fall under “executive privilege.”
The Alaska Public Records Act is our state version of the federal FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request) “It allows all Alaskans to find out public information from their government. It is how we ensure that our elected and appointed officials are carrying out the people’s business and protecting our rights,” Decker concluded. “We look forward to promptly receiving these records from the State.”