Freedom of Speech Not Freedom to Disrupt

September 19 2007, 4:17 PM
I believe that the First Amendment is rightfully the "first" amendment. Freedom of speech, religion and the press is one of the fundamental liberties that makes the United States such a great country. But freedom of speech does not mean, nor should it mean, the freedom to be disruptive and potentially dangerous. That's not how one organization sees things, however. As CBS4 Denver reports:
An anti-abortion minister vowed Tuesday he'll go to court if Denver tries to keep him and other abortion protesters from confronting delegates to the Democratic National Convention next year. Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said he plans to have 2,000 protesters encircle the Pepsi Center, the arena where the convention will be held in August. "We want to shine a spotlight on the radical pro-abortion position on the Democratic Party, particularly Senator Clinton," Mahoney said to a group of people gathered in Denver to hear him speak. Mahoney said his group was barred from protesting at sites of both national conventions in 2004. He said he plans to fight any attempts to bar the group from confronting delegates next year, citing his First Amendment rights to free speech. He claimed the treatment he got in Boston was a "disgrace." "They put everyone in a free-speech pen, we called it," Mahoney said. "They had a chain link fence above us, around us; we literally were in a pen." Mahoney said his group also plans to protest in St. Paul, Minnesota, site of the Republican convention, especially if the GOP nominates Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights. The anti-abortion protestors have been a presence at national political conventions dating back to 1988. City officials are still working on where protestors will be allowed to assemble in Denver -- most likely in the area around Civic Center Park. But Mayor Hickenlooper conceded last week that, and other security issues, may well be taken out of local hands. "This is going to be a dance we do with the federal government," Hickenlooper said at a community forum last week. "And their goal is to have zero risk."
The way that Boston handled protestors at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was less than ideal, to be charitable, but Mahoney's group should absolutely not be allowed to encircle the Pepsi Center with a human chain (nor will they be allowed, I'm sure). There are ways to protest without causing a security problem and without disrupting an entire event, and that has nothing to do with the right of free speech. You aren't allowed, for example, to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater because it would incite a panic. You aren't allowed to just stroll onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and speak your mind, because that would be silly; nothing would get done if anyone who wanted to speak on the Senate floor could do so whenever they pleased, not to mention the obvious security problems that would cause. I believe strongly in the First Amendment, but freedom of speech does not - and should not - give you the right to just do as you please whenever you please.