Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Free speech isn't free

Monday a judge dismissed the case against a group of anti-abortion protestors in violation of a Waco city ordinance regulating protests and parades in school zones at certain times. Personally, I don't see why he threw out the case, they were clearly in violation of the ordinance. If the dismissal is challenged and a higher court rules the ordinance unconstitutional, that's another matter. There are definitely some free speech issues involved. But the ordinance itself, though murky, seems clearly to intend to protect the children at the nearby Montessori school. Preschoolers should not have to view obscene material, like graphic depictions of dismembered fetuses. But people have the right to protest. Somewhere, there has to be a distinction between protesting and actively trying to hold up business at Planned Parenthood and trying to frighten little children with obscene material. I'm afraid this ruling is going to embolden activists to do the latter. A federal judge handed down a different ruling last summer against the protesters' charge of violation of 1st Amendments rights. He said:

In the final section of his Jan. 14 order, after citing precedents backing the city's right to pass a zoning ordinance to protect school children, Nowlin denied the plaintiffs' claim that the ordinance crushed protesters' right to free speech. "So it appears that the good people of Waco really are just trying to protect themselves and their children after all," he wrote. "And the First Amendment looks no worse for wear to boot. As for the plaintiffs, well, there is a great big world out there filled with scores of non-school zone abortion clinics. If that doesn't have all the makings for a fine family summer vacation, well then...." The judge then concluded with, "It is so ordered," then signed the document.
I tend to agree with Judge Nowlin, a city has a right to protect itself from certain things. I think the line is drawn well before we start saying we shouldn't have access to adult materials, but I wouldn't think that an ordinance that prohibited the sale of adult materials in front of an elementary school violated the 1st Amendment. Oddly enough I side with the federal judge instead of the county judge on this issue. Go figure.

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