Free speech (for the polite)

The new slogan of the Bush Administration appears to be, "If you don't have anything nice to say, we won't let you say anything at all."

Last October, Brett Bursey was arrested in South Carolina for "threatening the President" in a "restricted zone." The alleged "threatening"? Bursey was quietly holding a sign that said "No More War For Oil" while waiting for the President to arrive at a local airport. The "restricted zone" was an area where thousands of Bush supporters were standing to welcome him.

This should come as no surprise. In the month previous, Bill Neel, 65 years old, made a sign he wanted the President to see while motorcading through a nearby town. The sign said, "The Bushes Must Love The Poor: They've Made So Many Of Us." The sign was quickly confiscated after Neel refused to take it to a Free Speech Zone--an area one mile away from where the President could see it. Meanwhile, a woman holding the creative and thought-provoking "Hello George" sign was permitted to wait in the middle of main street for many hours to greet the President. Neel was arrested and currently awaits arraignment.

In Tampa, Florida, three other protesters also were arrested last year by the secret service because they refused to bring their signs to a Free Speech Zone half a mile away. It seems the other Free Speech Zone--the one for people with pro-Bush signs--was located directly in the President's line of vision. Last week, the three protesters filed a lawsuit against the Secret Service for violation of their constitutional rights.

The President has also branched out from merely silencing regular citizens; he has also stopped allowing certain "disagreeable" members of the press corp from asking questions during press conferences. Bush is so averse to anyone expressing a dissenting opinion, he is willing to poke a hole in our First Amendment rights. One of the things that separates this country from non-democracies is the knowledge we can all speak our minds with impunity whenever we want, wherever we want. Perhaps it was stated best by Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass), who recently quipped, "We have a free speech zone already, it's called the United States of America." J.B. RABIN