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Stifling Free Speech in The Garden State

Steve Lonegan, former Mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, and persistent thorn in the side of Governor Corzine, has just been handed a fantastic lawsuit opportunity under Title 42 USC Section 1983, and I do hope he takes the opportunity for the sake of anyone else exercising their constitutional rights in New Jersey.

Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who is an outspoken critic of tax and immigration policies, was arrested Saturday afternoon outside a South Jersey high school while protesting Governor Corzine’s toll-hike plan.

Lonegan said in a telephone interview that he was handcuffed while handing out pamphlets a few minutes before the 2 p.m. start of Corzine’s town meeting in Cape May County. Corzine is holding the public events in each of the state’s 21 counties to try to sell his financial proposal.

Arrested outside a public event, on public property, and while peacefully demonstrating would seem to be to be a proper exercise of first amendment rights.

Paul Porreca, a retired Superior Court judge who served in Cape May County and is a member of Lonegan’s group, said he witnessed a verbal altercation between Lonegan, police and a school board administrator over the right of protesters to display placards outside the Middle Township High School. The unidentified administrator claimed the site was not public property and that school board policy prohibited protesting, Porreca said.

Police arrested Lonegan when he refused to get rid of his sign or clear off the property, Porreca said.

Porreca later said “I think it was outrageous. It was a clear abuse of our constitutional rights, our right to assembly, the people’s right to free speech. They were intimidated and, though they were not physically abused, certainly their sensibilities were abused.” I agree.

UPDATE: Not being a first amendment expert, I e-mailed Eugene Volokh to see if he knew whether the state has a case here.  He pointed me to U.S. v. Kokinda.  That case suggests it would depend on the nature of the property they were arrested on.  If it was a public sidewalk outside of the high school, that would be a traditional public forum, where they would be free to protest.  A sidewalk owned by the school, leading up to the school, would be a non-public forum, where the school district would be in its right to enforce a blanket prohibition on protesting.

7 Responses to “Stifling Free Speech in The Garden State”

  1. joated says:

    Ah, first NJ attacks the 2nd Amendment. Now they go after the 1st.

    I wish Lonegan great success. With a retired Superior Court Judge (Porreca) as a witness and sympathizer he (Lonegan) stands a better than even chance.

  2. straightarrow says:

    if you can suspend the 2nd, there is nothing to stop you from suspending the first, or any of the others.

    We know NJ has suspended the 2nd. Truth has no weight in that debate. Unfortunately, I believe it will take force or, at least, the valid threat of force to dissuade the state from its enslaving thrust.

  3. Linoge says:

    While I agree with the concept that the Second Amendment is basically the shield for all of the rest, I do believe it is more than a little early to be calling for force, or even threat of force, in this particular instance. With the weight of an ex-judge witness, all of the other witnesses who are probably available, and the blatant oppression of Mr. Lonegan’s rights by a governmental offical, this case should be easily handled in court.

    Now, if the court sides with the police/school official… well, then the situation is more than a little different.

  4. Nate says:

    Any other state in the Union and I would know almost without a doubt, say 98%, that he would be able to hand them a nice tasty lawsuit and win. The other 2% would be an unsympathetic judge and an uniformed jury.
    Now in the Democratic Peoples Republic of New Jersey i’m no so sure. The odds of an unsympathetic judge go up quite a bit, as well as the odds of an uniformed jury. My prediction is that this will be like watching last nights Green Bay vs. Giants game…your not sure who is going to win until it’s over.
    BTW…I hate the Giants…

  5. straightarrow says:

    I was speaking of the entire situation in NJ and other places. Even if this trial has a proper conclusion, it will not deter the state from being successful in preying on the less well connected and less well witnessed.

    I was not encouraging force in this specific case. I was just noting that I believe nothing less will dissuade the state from pursuing its ultimate goal of abolition of all citizen rights.

  6. Linoge says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    However, it does raise another question… Should the situation require force, as it may yet prove to, against whom do you apply the force? Those who make the laws (the politicians) and those who enforce them (the police) are, perhaps, the most likely targets, but what of the people who put them there? It is not as though te politicians simply siezed the power, without any regard for their populace. We, the people, voted them into place – perhaps not freedom loving people such as you and me, but still Americans. And, in their own way, they share the same guilt for our current situation as our politicians do.

    I suppose, at its core, what I am asking is whether or not America could be saved by a symbolic cutting off of the head, or whether the rot has gotten too deep.

    (And, for those curious, I do not know about anyone else here, but I am speaking completely hypothetically… my own thoughts on this manner of topic are kept private, believe you me.)

  7. straightarrow says:

    Yes, Linoge, I agree that puts us on the horns of a dilemma. Adolph Hitler would have just been a street corner crackpot if not for the accomodaters.

    I don’t know the answer to the situation, but I do know that I will not surrender my citizenship or liberty no matter how many people vote that I should. As for what to do with all those pragmatists, I have no idea.

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