The Monetization of the First Amendment

News flash: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican controlled state legislature have come up with a new way to suppress free speech – charge for it.

Under a new policy, organizers of large outdoor demonstrations at the capitol are now required to pay fifty dollars per hour for each additional police officer required to monitor the event.  The same charge will be applied to small indoor protests.  This service charge, of course, is payable in advance.

When asked if the policy was designed to discourage protest, Walker’s predictable response was, “No. Not at all. The courts and the judge’s orders in terms of making sure it was a public place also set conditions for how it should be run and operated.”

(Yes, I know his answer is not entirely lucid, but let’s try to respond anyway.)

So, charging demonstrators for the act of demonstrating is not suppression of free speech because the state can set other conditions for public gatherings such as time of day, sound levels and sanitary requirements?  Really?  The governor thinks he can disregard the Bill of Rights the same way he can require Porta Potties at county fairs?

Well, Governor Walker, I don’t think so.  Charging citizens for exercising their rights was struck down a long time ago.  As I recall, it was considered inappropriate back when the great state of Mississippi tried to charge people a poll tax to prevent some from voting.  I think the word the courts used was unconstitutional.  I believe charging the people of Wisconsin a Demonstration Tax may also be viewed as bad form.

Aside from the constitutional issue, there are other troubling aspects to this policy.  Frankly, this kind of law can easily be selectively enforced.  Who decides how many additional police will be required for any given event?  The people in power of course – the people who don’t want critical demonstrations to occur.  Those in power could require thousands of additional police for recall rallies or Occupy actions.    But those same people may feel a Tea Party demonstration would not require any additional police.  After all, the Tea Party demonstrators traditionally pack guns which are far less dangerous than socialist ideas.

With this policy Governor Walker continues to drive Wisconsin towards Brave New Wisconsin a place where nothing is free – including speech.

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