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Signs of liberty
Why is the University of Mary Washington inhibiting free speech at today's Obama-Biden rally?

Date published: 9/27/2008

NOT ALL COUNTRIES guarantee their citizens the right to virtually unbridled freedom of speech. The United States does. Would someone please tell the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama? And the dozing guardians of liberty at the University of Mary Washington?

Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, is scheduled to speak at a rally at the university today. The public is invited to this forum, on property it, the public, owns. However, signs and banners will not be allowed, according to the organizers and compliant campus officials. Suddenly, UMW is a First Amendment-Free, or at least a First Amendment-Crippled, Zone, subject to the self-serving preferences of politicos. Why does an Obama rally--or a McCain rally or a Nader rally--justify taking a little off the top of Americans' most fundamental rights?

A UMW spokeswoman says that the Obama campaign required the sign-and-banner ban. That campaign tells us that the ban is for "security" reasons. But a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service, responsible for protecting presidential candidates, says that the service has no objection to signs at rallies, provided that no "part of the sign could be used as a weapon"--e.g., a heavy metal pole or a sharpened stick. Finally, the McCain campaign tells us, "We encourage people to make signs at our events."

Regarding today's event, one would expect better from a campaign bearing the name of a former professor of constitutional law. (See Ambrose Bierce's definition of a lawyer: "one skilled in circumventing the law.") And one would expect much better from a university that, in pursuit of a day of celebrity, a boost in prestige, and profits from its book store's planned commemorative Obama T-shirts (now scotched), shaves away an American liberty purchased by men who turned white snow red and dry dirt wet with their sacrificial blood. This is a lot to swap for a mess of pottage. Remarks the Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead, who has turpentined the Bush administration's civil-rights record, "The Secret Service has a better free-speech viewpoint than the college."

The First Amendment guarantees the freedoms of religion, speech, the press, peaceable assembly, petition of the government. Will one who aspires to the title Defender of the Constitution begin inhibiting these First Freedoms even before he is in office--at a public university?


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