Defend free speech rights!
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
Liberty Action of the Week
May 6, 2003
Defend free speech rights!
by Mary Lou Seymour[From www.rationalreview.com/archive/mls/mls050603.html]
On Sunday, April 27, Timothy Condon, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Director of Member Services for the rapidly growing Free State Project (a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S., where they may work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government), was peacefully handing out flyers extolling the benefits of the FSP for gun owners outside the National Rifle Association national convention in Orlando Florida. Tim, an NRA member himself, and a registered participant at the convention, had been handing out the flyers in the same location for 3 days without incident.
On Sunday morning, with no notice, he was approached by security personnel and Orange County sheriff's deputies and told to "cease and desist" or he'd be arrested for "trespassing." Tim, an attorney, pointed out that he was on a public walkway, not in the convention hall, and refused, citing the First Amendment. "I believe there is a First Amendment problem with prohibiting people from passing out political literature on public property where there is no problem caused by it." Condon said.
Condon was then arrested and transported to the Orange County Jail, where he spent 12 hours before being released on bond. "I was held for 12 hours at the Orange County jail, treated well by the sheriff's office personnel (who were probably treating me with kid-gloves because they knew I was a lawyer, and that this was a constitutional/civil rights challenge), before being bonded out on $500 bond by my wife Michele, who was working on it from Tampa, 100 miles away." (Note that although Condon was "treated well," he was not offered the chance to be released OR (on his own recognizance), despite the fact that he is an attorney and certainly not a flight risk). Tim has been charged with "Trespass after warning," a first degree misdemeanor worth one year in jail if convicted. The arraignment is scheduled for 6/12/03.
Haven't heard that story yet? You're not alone. Even if you live in Florida you wouldn't have seen the story in your local paper. The mainstream media is ignoring the story.
If you have heard the story, chances are it's because you're a politically aware individual who reads Sierra Times ("Pro-Gun Group Prompts Arrest Of One Of It's Own At National Convention"), or North American Samizdat ("Another Free Speech Bust") or, a member of the Free State Project, which is "up in arms" at this treatment of their Director and at this indication that the Constitution is routinely ignored throughout the US. Despite the fact that Condon and the Free State Project immediately sent a press release to the local Florida media there has been NO coverage.
For this week's action, let's write letters to the editor to the "news" papers in Florida, decrying this treatment of peaceful Constitutionally protected activity and urging them to interview Tim and to show up at his arraignment and cover it as a news event. (Note: Condon and his attorney will, of course, petition to have all charges dismissed; and are contemplating civil litigation on civil rights violations; see the FSP website for "breaking news" on this.)
Let's make sure they know that there are those of us in the country who DO care, and care deeply, when anyone's First Amendment rights are violated, and let them know that we think the press has a special obligation to cover free speech issues, since their own existence depends on the First Amendment.
The Orlando FL "news"papers and contact info are listed below. (I suggest FAXing and/or snail mailing your letters as well as emailing. Phone calls may also be appropriate.) You may also want to use the Media Guide tool to locate other news media in the state of Florida to write or call.
Those who are NRA members (and those who aren't) may also want to write the NRA and let them know what we think about this outrageous treatment of one of their members. Remember, not ONE NRA official approached Tim and asked him to leave, or, if he was on "rented property" asked him to move ; they simply sent the cops. Not ONE NRA official has contacted Tim since the incident, to explain their rationale for having him arrested. "What is even more bizarre to me is that the National Rifle Association would have one of its own members arrested for passing out literature that supports the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms." Condon commented.
And please, feel free to forward this column or link to any pro-gun rights, freedom of speech or liberty oriented email lists or forums you may participate in.
Let's do our darndest to get this story into the news where it will serve as a "heads up" to freedom fighters around the country, and a reminder that activists are subject to arrest any time you "protest" or hand out flyers. Be sure to make that eventuality part of your preparation, as well as being sure you have enough flyers printed ("The First Amendment and You")!
On a side note, The Free State Project has their own conference (The Grand Western Conference) planned for May 24 and 25th in Missoula, Montana. According to the conference organizers, members of the NRA or any organization will not be arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights outside the conference hall.
Til next week