The Bush team and their congressional allies are in the final stages of jamming a Patriot Act reauthorization act into law.
The reauthorization bill will give the feds new power to suppress Americans’ speech. The Act contains a provision that will empower the Secret Service to forcibly expand the Free Speech Zones that have blighted dissent when the President or any federal big-wig comes to town. The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson warns that the provision “would give the Secret Service effective power to enact ‘exclusion zones’ even without the attendance of the president or other Secret Service protectee.”
Free Speech Zones have been among the most brazen constitutional abuses of the Bush era. The Secret Service, often working in cahoots with local police, create quarantine zones where no one can wave a sign with a discouraging word about George W. Secret Service agent Brian Marr explained to National Public Radio the rationale for pervasive restrictions: “These individuals may be so involved with trying to shout their support or nonsupport that inadvertently they may walk out into the motorcade route and be injured. And that is really the reason why we set these places up, so we can make sure that they have the right of free speech, but, too, we want to be sure that they are able to go home at the end of the evening and not be injured in any way.”
People still have the right to free speech -as long as no one hears their words or sees their signs. The term “free speech zone” has quickly gone from being an obscenity and near-sneer to becoming formal government policy. This is a sea change in the American political vocabulary — and proof of the pervasive deference to government and politicians in the post-9/11 era.
Free speech zones are a pre-emptive strike against American freedom. It is absurd to presume that no one has the right to get close enough to holler at a politician. If Americans acquiesce to free speech zones, they are unfit for self-government.
The fate of the provision vesting new censorship power in the Secret Service will speak volumes about whether the media and members of Congress have learned anything from the abuses of recent years.