The Washington Times, FEBRUARY 2, 1983
Defacing the White House
Is this a civilized country where people behave civilly? We like to think so, but the visual pollution day after day in front of the White House makes us wonder. The defacing of a premier national symbol with garish placards and incoherent slogans has become routine.
It is a sickening sight that shocks citizens visiting the nation's capital. It is a civics lesson of the worst kind to schoolchildren who come to see the president's house. It is an intolerable eyesore to us who live here.
Neither the federal authorities nor the Barry administration lifts a voice or a finger to stop this defacement. Why? Because, we suspect, a pervasive confusion over freedom of expression has overtaken too many of us.
In a time when the First Amendment has been stretched to cover everything from nude dancing to swinging a cat as a cathedral, any suggestion that the spectrum of human behavior, from the rational to the loathesome, is not publicly appropriate draws shivers of apprehension.
To plaster the fence in front of the White House with placards insulting the president, the presidency and the . . . in general has nothing to do with freedom of dissent Or speech, Or assembly.
It is one thing to have a peaceable demonstration on the sidewalk to protest or advocate this, that or the other thing, at a specified time and for a specific duration. With citizens carrying picket signs that proclaim the message—for peace, against war, against hypocrisy or for war and hypocrisy. But unmanned signs left leaning against the fence, marring the view—these amount to nothing more than graffiti, defacement of public property, treating the White House like a public latrine.
Congress thought it fit in 1975 to prohibit all such "expressive conduct" on the grounds of the Supreme Court building. The law is being challenged (of course) before the court itself right now.
Although the Supreme Court and courts generally have asserted a special protection "for the characteristics of the judicial branch—a calm deliberation and reflection, free from outside pressure and political controversy," there is no reason to exclude the other branches of government from similar considerations.
Should the "decorum" that the court rightly values as an adjunct to its function be denied the White House? Or Congress, for that matter? Of course not.
In defending the law under challenge, the government notes that "Congress undoubtedly has the power to establish national monuments and to attempt in other ways to give symbolic meaning to certain places [and] place reasonable restrictions on the place and manner of expression."
Show us a civil libertarian who finds this common-sense argument somehow threatening to First Amendment rights, and we'll show you someone who is blind to the tyranny of incivility.
So if it takes an act of Congress to sweep this detritus away, let the Congress act. Now.
Exhibit 23 B