Thursday, November 30, 2006

So Much for Free Speech

On Tuesday, I was reading the paper when I found out the Denver City Council is planning on outlawing holding a banner on a highway overpass. As usual with these types of things, they try to act like there is a compelling reason for their action. They also try to mask their true motivation.

Here is a little background: This whole thing began back in September of 1997. That’s when I came up with an idea to make a three foot by ten foot banner that says Abortion Kills Children. The purpose was to hold it on the 6th Avenue and Perry overpass in Denver during rush hour. My wife Wendy spearheaded the once a month project. She and several others stood on the sidewalk of the overpass and held the banner up to the six foot fence. From September through November, there was no problem. In December, the Denver Police stopped by and tried to come up with an ordinance that was being violated. After more than an hour, three different officers, radio calls, etc. they decided there was nothing being violated.

In January, a state highway worker stops by and says that we can’t hold the banner on the overpass. He leaves after being told of the previous decision by the police. In February, at about the time to leave anyway, highway workers come by again as well as a policeman. The policeman is given the information from previous encounters and everyone leaves.

In March, police show up again and claim we are violating a state statute regarding signs on highways. Nothing is done as the sign was down already but it is becoming obvious that they are not going to give up.

Wendy contacts the legal arm of the American Family Association and they are very interested in what is coming to pass.

In August 1998, two and a half minutes after Wendy and the others start holding the banner an officer arrives and tells them they are violating the law. Four more police cars arrive and she is ticketed and charged with illegal posting. After a couple of court appearances, letters to the city from her attorneys, etc. the charges are dropped as it is obvious to the everyone that the statute didn’t apply to what she was doing.

Soon after this, the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy files a federal civil rights lawsuit on Wendy’s behalf against the City of Denver. As these things go, it is a very long process in many different courts. She prevailed in every court up through the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. It was interesting to observe this whole process as it seemed that the City of Denver was willing to spend any amount of money and time to suppress the prolife message. It was also interesting to see them continually change their story whenever they were rebuffed. In any other situation, I would have expected their attorneys to be censured for their behavior.

So even after the City lost at the Tenth Circuit they changed the story yet again, appealed another time and finally after eight years in the courts, they found a sympathetic panel of Tenth Circuit judges and things went their way. What relief they must have felt! Finally, they could shut up those annoying prolife protesters on the overpass. So now, after nine years, the Denver City Council will finally be able to stomp out such a dangerous activity as protest on the overpass.

They will claim that such action is necessary for traffic safety, yet in nine years of holding the banner on the overpass there has never been any traffic troubles associated with it. It’s simply a situation of having the power and hating the message of their opponent.

I have some advice for the Denver City Council: if they really want to stop a traffic hazard, why don’t they outlaw the morning sun, which contributes to an accident on 6th Avenue almost every day.

Look here for the Tenth Circuit opinion.

Philip

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