Jake Brown, a young history major, often eats lunch at a bench in a park near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. One day this summer, he brought a sign saying: “Free Independence Hall.” It was in protest of metal bike racks in the area that he thinks are ugly. Maybe a silly cause, but a harmless one. He wasn’t shouting. He wasn’t running around flourishing the sign. He just had it propped next to him.
But soon a park ranger was telling Browne he couldn’t protest there. Browne asked why, and the official said it’s because the park is federal property. Browne wanted to know, “What about my First Amendment right to free speech?” According to Browne, the park ranger replied, “This is a First-Amendment-free zone,” and that if Browne wanted to display his sign he had to take it to the “designated First Amendment Zone,” a couple blocks away. Intimidated, Browne suggested that he just turn the sign around while he ate his lunch. The official said, “Fine. [But if] you turn it back, you’re under arrest.”
Well, this isn’t a science fiction tale of a darkening future, it’s all been written up in the Philadelphia Daily News . Fortunately, under pressure from the ACLU, the park rangers seem to have reversed their policy. My small suggestion would be that before being hired, government employees be required to pass a test on the U.S. Constitution, with special attention to the Bill of Rights and with a failing grade for anyone who claims that this document doesn’t cover the whole country.
This is common sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.