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Listen To Lil' Jim

Moving on the First Amendment


The 4th of July edition of "Brave New War" was a quick comparison of Presidential quotes past and present. Since our current President is the modern maestro of malapropism, the Falling Wallenda of elocutionary excellence, it's just too tempting to not repeat that theme from time to time:James "Lil' Jim" Madison, fourth President of the US and author of much of the US Constitution: "The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home"

George W. Bush (South Bend, IN, October 31, 2002): "There's a lot of good folks at the federal level and the state level and the local level working hard -- listen, any time -- we understand the stakes now, and any time somebody is thinking about doing something to America, and somehow we're reading their thoughts, or reading their mail, we're moving on them."

Apparently, you don't have to be planning to "do something to America" to get in trouble. According to a story in the Philadelphia Daily News, 20-year-old student Jake Browne decided to exercise his First Amendment right to free speech on July 5. The location? A park bench behind Independence Hall. His instrument of protest? A hand-lettered sign saying, "Free Independence Hall!!"

"Every day, I look at the metal bike racks around Independence Hall and think, "That's so ugly,'" Browne said. "Even with red-white-and-blue bunting it looks like prison." His demonstration involved leaning the sign against a park bench while he quietly ate his lunch.

Shortly after beginning this seditious rebellion, a park ranger approached and, according to Browne, told him he could not protest there because it was federal property and (I'm not making this up) a "First-Amendment-free zone." Protesters could exercise free speech in a designated First Amendment Zone outside the Visitor's Center, two blocks away.

At first, Browne was shocked, then awed by the ranger. He said he'd turn his sign around while he ate his lunch. The ranger warned him not to turn the sign back around or he'd be arrested. The double exclamation marks on his sign no doubt identified Browne as a potential terrorist or enemy combatant.

A few minutes later, about a dozen rangers lined the metal fence near his bench, presumably on heightened Code Orange alert, watching until Browne finished his lunch and left.

Chalk up another W in the Terrorist Threats averted column.

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