Being able to say publicly or privately what you believe is essential to democracy and to freedom in general. And particularly in an election year, when political fever runs high, you would expect that all of us have a vested interest in making sure that freedom of speech is protected. But unfortunately, not everyone has gotten with the program. And in Arizona, a recent incident has free speech advocates up in arms.
The site of the dispute was a Trump rally in Prescott Valley that took place earlier this month. As you would expect, there were pro-Trump and anti-Trump people present. And also as expected, they let their political feelings be known. And we’d all agree that they have the right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to do so – all of us, that is, except for the Prescott Valley Police Department.
“Mouthing Off” is a Crime
The police department had officers at the rally, which took place at the Prescott Valley Even Center, as part of an agreement with the owner of the venue to monitor the building and the surrounding area. We assume that the PVPD was there to maintain the peace, and to be on the lookout for criminal behavior. Apparently, however, at least one of the officers decided that his job was to decide which persons at the rally could voice their political opinions, and to (mis)use his uniform and his authority to enforce his own views.
The officer, a Deputy Chief of the PVPD, was videotaped telling a protester that “if you mouth off, particularly to a person, that is a crime.” He went on to say that if the protester did it one more time, he would go to jail.
Here’s the truth. The officer was and is wrong. Absent violence, a threat of violence, or other specific illegal behavior, expressing your views is not only legal, it’s protected under the Constitution. This is not a concept that has been dreamed up by modern liberals. It’s as old as our country. As Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said, without free speech, there is no such thing as liberty.
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