Defacing the White House
The Washington Times, March 10, 1983
The preposterous federal appeals court decision yesterday is, or should be, the last straw in the decades-long trivialization of constitutionally-protected free speech in this country. The Interior Department should immediately issue a new set of rules banning all but hand-held signs in front of the White House and prohibiting any kind of permanent or semi- permanent structures across the street in Lafayette Park, whether erected by protesters or anybody else.
The government should also immediately prepare to appeal yesterday's decision to the Supreme Court. What that decision amounts to is legitimizing the mugging of civilized America by a scruffy minority intent on assaulting the nation's sensibility with outrageous behavior in the name (what desecration!) of free speech.
The muggers, calling themselves the Community for Creative Non-Violence, wanted to litter Lafayette Park with tents and live in them throughout the winter. Not just your ordinary squatting, mind you, but "political protest". They planned to dub their tent city "Reaganville" in order to publicize the "plight of the homeless".
All the National Park Service did was to tell this gang it couldn't sack out all night in its tent city because the Park Service has (imagine this!) rules against camping in the parks of the nation's capital.
This is the same gang that, beginning around Thanksgiving of 1981 and running into 1982, set up another tent city to protest something or other. Yes, in Lafayette Park, where the ladies and gentleman who inhabit the tents strewed the park with a multitude of personal belongings, made furniture out of crates, did laundry and hung wet blankets and sleeping gear from the trees, and used the one permanent lavatory in the park as a shower and the rest of the park as their private toilet.
And, you guessed it, the same court of appeals called that free speech!
This time, the court held that sleep is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Sleeping! This insult to reason and common sense leaves no doubt in our mind that certain federal judges are in dire need of psychiatric counseling followed by refresher courses in constitutional law and elementary logic.
Either that, or show us where it is written in the constitution that every form of behavior constitutes speech. No matter how unsightly or disgusting. Where in the Constitution does it say 'round the clock demonstrations, or mock tombstones erected in the park, or garish "protest" signs scribbled with gibberish and left to stand day and night against the Whit House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue have anything to do with freedom of speech?
The answer is, nowhere. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court itself held as far back as 1968 (United States vs. O'Brien) that every form of behavior doesn't constitute speech.
Serious political protesters as well as full-time vagrants and others whose hold on reality is perhaps less firm than yours and ours, have every right to express their views, through carrying signs and leafletting. In appropriate places, such as on the Ellipse, in view of the White House, for a limited number of hours.
Anything beyond this is tyrannizing the rest of us. Demonstrators have no right to deprive thousands of park visitors of a nationally significant sight. Defacing the White House and Lafayette Park is not the expression of free speech. It is a damned crime. And we can only pray that this administration and the Supreme Court have the guts to call it that.
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