Thomas Jefferson and Emma Goldman

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness and Dance.

That’s the way the Declaration of Independence might have started off if Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist and fighter for women’s rights, best know for her quote, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution”, had a chance to add her input.

The idea of Emma Goldman and Thomas Jefferson came to mind yesterday as I read the NBC article Park Police Slam Dancers at Jefferson Memorial. Here’s the backstory.

Back on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday in 2008, a group of people gathered at the Jefferson Monument at midnight to celebrate with a music-less dance party. About twenty people showed up on one person was arrested. The case is winding its way through the courts and on January 25th, 2010, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled that dancing at the Jefferson Memorial is not protected speech.

Before we look at the decision, it may be interesting to get a little bit of background on Judge Bates. He ‘worked as Deputy Independent Counsel for Kenneth Starr and the Independent Counsel's office during the investigation into President Bill Clinton’. In September, 2001, he was nominated by President Bush to a seat on the District Court. He has ruled against Representative Dennis Kucinich and other members of Congress in favor of President Bush. He ruled against Valerie Plame in favor of Vice President Cheney.

In this case, he upheld rules of the National Park Service which prohibit demonstrations and special events at the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Dancing, in this case is considered a demonstration that is not allowed.

According to the ruling, the officer that ordered Mary Brooke Oberwetter to leave back in 2008 refused to answer her question about why he was ordering her to leave. Apparently, her insistence in asking what she was doing wrong is what the court considers “disturbing the peace” and “interfering with an Agency Function”. The ruling also notes that “The Park Service has taken no further action on this matter.”

So, yesterday, protesters organized a demonstration. They danced in the Jefferson Memorial. You can get one view of the event in this YouTube video:

A friend of mine commented, “The dancers were clearly engaged in a protest--protected political speech--in one of the few places it is arguably reasonable to retrict it.” It seems more reasonable to restrict protected political speech around funerals of our servicemen and women, yet the Supreme Court wouldn’t limit that free speech, and I do not believe that they should at the nation’s monuments. If anything, these monuments to freedom are places that protected political speech ought to be encouraged.

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