Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Freedom of speech in MI? Not so much. Not anymore.

This is a disturbing story from Michigan, where a new law allows the governor to appoint local dictators emergency financial managers. It used to be called taxation without representation. The law allows these "managers" to dismiss governments, ignore local laws, sell off taxpayer assets and abrogate union contracts.

(The emergency financial manager law, by the way, was drafted by ALEC. No shock there.)

This is about another form of repression. Denise Miller, a resident of Linden, Mich., was sitting at a picnic table in Linden Park last month collecting signatures for a petition to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. A ranger told her to leave so she left. She called the parks office, and park officials told her she needed a permit. So she applied for a permit, which she got weeks later.

Here's the crazy thing: They told her she had to stand in a 3-foot-by-3-foot square within the 135-acre park. According to the Detroit News,
Instead of a picnic table near the stairway leading to the beach, parks officials said she could only solicit signatures from a so-called "Freedom of Speech Area" located 20 feet from a remote corner of a parking lot, far from foot traffic, according to the lawsuit.
In case she couldn't find it, parks officials spray-painted an orange, 3-by-3 box in the grass.
The ACLU sued on her behalf. Here's their statement.
“In a free society, citizens do not need the government’s permission to simply petition in a public park,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director. “Barring petitioning anywhere in a 135-acre park except for a tiny, isolated spot is a particularly egregious violation of the First Amendment...”
In addition, the permit only allowed her to petition from July 1 to August 1, 2011 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. even though the park is open until 9 p.m. in the summer. Furthermore, she was instructed that her sign was to be placed within 10 feet of the orange square. Other signs in the park, however, are routinely placed more than 100 feet away from specific activities, including signs directing people to birthday parties and family reunions.
“This case is not just about our clients in Genesee County,” said Steinberg. “All throughout the state we’ve heard from recall volunteers who have hit roadblocks when attempting to exercise their fundamental right to petition in traditional public forums such as public parks and sidewalks. Not everyone will agree with this political campaign, but we can all agree that public officials should not be in the business of silencing citizens.”