For the Republicans in the White House, freedom is a word that just doesn't apply to American citizens who disagree with them. The following is lifted from a USA TODAY editorial:
President Bush's speech at the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va., on Independence Day in 2004, invoked the nation's highest ideals: "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," Bush told the crowd.
Ringing words. Unfortunately, the White House advance team didn't get the memo. Or the message.
More than an hour earlier, the advance officials, working with local police, had confronted and ejected a young couple who had come to the speech wearing T-shirts that fit any reasonable definition of free expression. The front of both shirts bore the name "Bush" surrounded by a circle with a slash through it; the back of Jeffery Rank's shirt carried the slogan "Regime Change Begins at Home" and Nicole Rank's shirt read, "Love America, Hate Bush."
The Ranks refused demands to take the shirts off, turn them inside out or leave. Though they were on public property and not being disruptive, they were handcuffed, arrested and charged with trespass. The charges were later dropped, and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ranks sued the White House advance personnel for violating their First Amendment rights.
Last week, the government settled the case, admitting no wrongdoing but agreeing to pay the Ranks $80,000. That avoidable expenditure of taxpayer dollars speaks volumes about who was wrong here.
If this was an isolated example -- one incident of an operative mis-interpreting instructions -- it would be understandable. But it isn't.
People have been kicked out of a Bush event in Denver because their car bore a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker. Others have been kept out for wearing a Young Democrats shirt. Extraordinary efforts were made to prevent protests from marring the GOP convention in 2004 at which Bush was renominated.
During the Ranks' suit, the White House was forced to cough up a heavily censored copy of its advance manual, which reads like something Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez would love.
It's one matter to strip away civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, at least there is the pretense of national security at hand - even if it is largely phony and fabricated when applied by the Bush administration. It's another matter altogether to just stifle dissent.
This country was built on civil disobedience and vocal dissent. It is our right and patriotic duty to speak up and out and against aspects and actions of our government if so moved.
If you profess to love "the freedom for people to speak their minds," as Bush told the Charleston crowd in 2004, you have to assume you're not always going to love what they say. Instead of a lengthy manual on preventing and handling demonstrators, Bush's advance people need a refresher course on a somewhat older manual. It's called the Constitution of the United States.
The White House declined to provided an opposing view to the USA TODAY editorial because, according to White House spokesman Tony Fratto, the Presidential Advance Manual is an issue in two other pending lawsuits.
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