Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SHAME, SHAME!

I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.

— attributed to Voltaire


Last night, something happened that has me writing about something other than autism. Two women were ejected from the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives shortly before President Bush gave his State of the Union address. Both committed the crime of wearing t-shirts with messages.

One of the women was Cindy Sheehan, who has famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) protested the ongoing war in Iraq by demonstrating outside of just about anywhere the president happens to be. Ms. Sheehan was sitting in the gallery as the guest of Representative Lynn Woolsey of California. The t-shirt she wore depicted a number: the number of United States military personnel that have been killed in Iraq, one of whom was Ms. Sheehan’s son.

The second woman was Beverly Young, the wife of Republican Representative Bill Young of Florida, who happens to be chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Ms. Young’s fashion faux pas was wearing a t-shirt reading “Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom.”

According to the Associated Press, Ms. Young was told that “she was being treated the same as Sheehan.” That’s not entirely accurate, in that Ms. Young was merely escorted out into the hallway where she argued with the Capitol Police. Ms. Sheehan, on the other hand, was handcuffed and booked with something called “unlawful conduct.” But the disparity in the treatment is unimportant. A wrong was inflicted upon both women, and through them, upon the nation.

Ms. Young is understandably upset at being asked to leave for silently proclaiming what she considers to be a positive message. And Ms. Sheehan maintains that she had no intention of being disruptive.

Predictably, the politicians closest to the incidents are squawking, and missing the point. Rep. Woolsey issued a statement decrying the action against Ms. Sheehan, and opining that the arrest was simply because of a disagreement with the Administration. That, of course, ignores the ouster of Ms. Young. For his part, Rep. Young spoke from the House floor, stating that his wife was taken away because “she had on a shirt that someone didn’t like that said support our troops.” That misses the point that two women, espousing different views, were escorted out of the House Chamber — a place that should not only tolerate, but encourage freedom of speech — because they engaged in non-disruptive acts of political speech.

The one thing said by any of the politicians with which I can agree was spoken by Rep. Young during his diatribe from the floor: “Shame, shame.”

The war in Iraq divides this country. Like most of you, I have strong opinions about the matter, but those opinions aren’t important to this discussion. Likewise, the substantive opinions of neither Ms. Sheehan nor Ms. Young should make a difference when deciding whether you feel their ousters were appropriate. All Americans should be angry about this.

The State of the Union, as political as it may be no matter which party is in power, should be considered a celebration of our constitutional government and the freedoms we are guaranteed as citizens of this most wonderful country. The First Amendment protects all speech — political speech in particular — without regard to how offensive some may find it. Of course, no freedom is absolute; that is, a distinction must be drawn between “freedom” and “license.” If the physical security of an event is actually threatened, there is no question that speech can be curtailed. And arguably, an event like the State of the Union should be free of disruption. But sitting quietly in a t-shirt threatens neither safety nor decorum.

That no real crimes were committed is evident by the charge entered against Ms. Sheehan: “unlawful act.” By definition, committing an unlawful act requires that another law be broken. Yet there was no other charge entered except of an “unlawful act.”

This may sound extraordinarily trite, but it bears saying anyway. Clamping down on constitutionally protected free speech, regardless of the content, is a slap in the face to the men and women who sacrifice themselves while serving this country. On that, Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Young should both agree.

About a week ago, I took Camille Clark to task for what I considered to be a tasteless and cruel post on her blog. To her credit, Camille left comments on the post trying to explain her intentions. Although I appreciate and respect her willingness to offer that explanation, I strongly disagree with Camille. But that being said, I will gladly take on anyone who would deny her the right to speak her mind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Post Script:

The Capitol Police have apologized and acknowledged that the ejection of these women should never have taken place.
“The officers made a good faith but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.

“The policy and procedures were too vague,” he added. “The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine.”

Chief Gainer’s explanation confirms my opinion that the crimes committed by Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Young were non-existent. Having the chief fall on his sword before the press may forestall any real debate about the incident, and that’s too bad. I would still like to hear why the police seemingly all believed that wearing t-shirts with messages on them deserved arrest.

The State of the Union address is not something new; it happens every year. And every year it seems that there is some issue that draws fire upon whatever Administration is in office. I find it hard to believe that no thought has ever been given to making the “policy and procedures” a little less “vague.”

5 Comments:

Blogger Kev said...

Last year over here during the annual Labour Party conference, an 82 year old Jewish escapee from the Nazi's shouted 'rubbish' at the Foreign Secretary as he tried to justify our support of Bush in a speech. As a result he was man-handled and ejected by security staff.

When any party in power, in any country, goes to war ostensibly to protect freedoms and then abuses those fredoms at home, their position becomes untenable.

2/2/06, 6:19 AM  
Blogger MOM-NOS said...

Well said, Wade! I couldn't agree more.

2/2/06, 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Camille said...

Thanks, Wade. I guess.

I have been known to wear my opinions on my chest on t-shirts or buttons, but I design those shirts myself.

I have one you might like, "Autism It's Not Like You Think"
another is
"Baby Einstein Was Autistic"

I think there are a few dozen cars driving around the US now with the bumper sticker, "Autism it's not like you think" and of course, there's "autistics pace themselves" and the "AU" autistic underground, with the aut viam aut inveniam faciam slogan on it.

I gave Dr. Margaret Bauman one of my "Autism Diva" buttons that has the blogspot address on it.

I haven't been tossed out of anywhere. I feel bad for Ms. Sheehan, that must have been an awful experience. Ain't no way to treat a lady.

Rick Rollens reacted very rudely to Kathleen's letter to the MIND regarding his activities. He fired off one of the rudest little notes I've ever seen, calling her names and everything. It was quite threatening in my opinino. Can you imagine? He called her "Diva". No, really, he did. And that's not all. Kathleen will be sharing it on her blog eventually.

2/2/06, 7:56 PM  
Anonymous shawn said...

I'll jump in. After all politics can't be half as divisive as perspectives on autism treatments!

I wish that both women had left the T-shirts at home or at least covered up within the House chamber. The state of the union address is admittedly political. However, it is also a constituionally required duty of the president. It doesn't seem unreasonable that we allow the president to have the floor for 90 minutes or so (just a guess, since I didn't watch) in a truly respectful way.

Both women were treated too harshly and the disparity in treatment bothers me. I wouldn't have been troubled if they had both been simply escorted from the chamber (ok, maybe just a little troubled). I'm grateful for our diversity of opinion but I'm also for showing the people we elected a level of respect, whether we agree with them or not.

2/5/06, 9:41 AM  
Blogger mommyguilt said...

My political opinions aside, I don't seem to understand WHY either womas was escorted out...Ms. Sheehan, yeah, sure, the administration is ticked at her for making a valid point, but she did nothing wrong by wearing a T-shirt. It's not as though she assembled a protest outside the doors. Ms. Young...hmmmm....again, what did she do that was so wrong?

I think the police "apology" was to divert further controversy, but I don't think that will work. I think too many things have happened that have been covered up, ignored, avoided, that it's about time SOMETHING stood out and SOMEONE cause a ruckus. Way to go Ladies!

2/9/06, 3:45 PM  

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