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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ohio Peace Activist's Free Speech Fight: Cops Removed His 'Impeach Bush' Sign

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A few years ago, a federal appeals court in Ohio ruled an anti-abortion protester's Free Speech rights were infringed when he was arrested for carrying a placard displaying a fetus while strolling during an Akron suburb's Memorial Day parade. And last month, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Cincinnati wrongly arrested an abortion protester for trespassing near a clinic as he tried to stop a woman from entering.

Free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution saved both men from criminal prosecution. Now there is another case that will make history from Ohio -- a Kent police officer ticketed an anti-war protester last month for putting an "Impeach Bush" sign in a public garden. The case is making its journey through the legal system and the first stop is in the Portage County Municipal Court. At the heart of this matter is this question: Can signs espousing political causes be erected in public places; does their removal amount to government censorship? It is a very close call.

Protests and protest signs have been part of the landscape in Washington's LaFayette Park across from the White House for year now. They are one of the city's tourist stops.

And anti-abortion protesters, for example, have been granted latitude to display protest signs along public sidewalks near Planned Parenthood clinics. Groups rent stadiums and convention halls built with public funds all the time, then use them for rallies where they proclaim support for all kids of causes. Years ago in Cincinnati, Ronald Reagan's 1986 campaign committee was sanctioned by a court for blocking protesters who wanted to carry anti-Reagan signs to a GOP rally on Fountain Square. And Cincinnati has been prohibited from refusing to grant a permit to the KKK, which wanted to place a cross -- its symbol of racial hatred -- on the same square in the heart of downtown. There's more: The Supreme Court has ruled that newsstands can't be stopped from being placed on city streets.

Kevin Egler, who wants Bush impeached, says he has been putting anti-war messages all around Ohio and neighboring states since October. Egler told Plain Dealer reporter James Ewinger that the cop who gave him a ticket July 25 in Kent remarked: "Why don't you put the signs in your own yard?"

If Egler is ever in this neighborhood, he's weclome to drop by with one of his signs. Perhaps his call for impeaching the president is a little extreme. But the guy is right to stick up for Free Speech. If Bush had any sense he'd invite him to the White House and stick one of the signs out on the lawn. It would show the whole world what this country stands for -- that every citizen has the right to speak his mind and nobody is afraid of that.

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