Feel free to speak up

The Citizens' Voice - - Editorial -

Speak up, pro­test­ers. Thanks to a sound rul­ing on sound by U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mar­i­ani of Scran­ton, it’s clearer than ever than pub­licly op­er­ated venues and their pri­vate man­agers can’t si­lence you for their own con­ve­nience.

The judge ruled April 10 in a case brought by avid an­i­mal rights ac­tivist Sil­vie Pomicter of South Abing­ton Twp. against the pub­licly owned Mo­he­gan Sun Arena in Wilkesbarre Twp. and SMG, its con­tracted man­ager.

Pomicter and other pro­test­ers found them­selves penned and si­lenced when they protested the now-de­funct Rin­gling Bros. Bar­num & Bai­ley cir­cus’ use of ele­phants and other an­i­mals in per­for­mances. Arena pol­icy called for the pro­test­ers to be herded be­hind bar­ri­cades, and it for­bade their use of am­pli­fi­ca­tion equip­ment and barred them from us­ing vul­gar­ity.

Pomicter and Last Chance for An­i­mals, a Los An­ge­les-based an­i­mal rights group, ar­gued that the arena’s pol­icy vi­o­lated their free speech rights, which ob­vi­ously is the case.

Mar­i­ani ruled that the arena can­not im­pose re­stric­tions on pro­test­ers that it does not im­pose on any­one else. In­deed, bar­ring vul­gar­ity by peo­ple out­side is du­bi­ous when the arena of­ten is filled with hockey fans.

And, as noted by Mary Cather­ine Roper, deputy le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Penn­syl­va­nia, protest can­not be de­fined only by the venue.

“Protest is not just about hold­ing a sign,” she said. “Our clients’ goal is to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the treat­ment of an­i­mals and to ed­u­cate peo­ple you need to be able to speak with them. That is what this case is about.”

That does not mean that peo­ple who are ap­proached by pro­test­ers. They are free to lis­ten, to dis­agree or to walk away.

Al­though the right to protest is pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, that right of­ten is abused by peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions in power. It is es­pe­cially ram­pant, and es­pe­cially wrong, at po­lit­i­cal events where po­lice of­ten herd pro­test­ers into re­mote ar­eas under the guise of se­cu­rity.

Mar­i­ani’s rul­ing is an im­por­tant re­minder that the First Amend­ment re­mains a bul­wark against of­fi­cial re­pres­sion.

Al­though the right to protest is pro­tected by the First Amend­ment, that right of­ten is abused by peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions in power.

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