First and foremost 07/09/2008
We who cherish the First Amendment know it can be tricky thing. Advertisement
Some people, for instance, don't fully understand it. They cite free speech and First Amendment rights when the circumstances don't apply.
Others believe the First Amendment applies only to them, particularly if they'd rather not be exposed to a contrary point of view.
Which brings us a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany by a group called Middle East Crisis Response. Its members say their First Amendment rights were violated when Kingston police escorted them away from a recent Downtown celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary.
We suppose it's germane here to point out that we support Israel as an ally and beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
That duly noted, those who believe otherwise are entitled to say so in a public place without fear of government interference.
"The bedrock principle of American constitutional law is that public parks and sidewalks are free-speech zones," said attorney Stephen Bergstein, who is representing the protesters. "The government can not pick and choose which advocacy groups may use the areas and which cannot."
"I believe the police officers (acted as they did) for public safety purposes," said Mayor James Sottile. "But they (the protesters) were certainly heard (from the nearby parking lot to which they were moved). Their message was heard loud and clear."
Again, we said the First Amendment can be tricky.
Protesters claim they were denied their rights because they were told to move. The city claims their rights weren't denied just because they were moved.
"There was ample room for the (protesters) to peacefully assemble at Gallo Park, and the city had no right to expel them," said Bergstein.
However, had they stayed, police would say, might hotter heads have prevailed?
We say the city was appropriately attentive to the possibility of conflict, but didn't need to step in unless it actually occurred.