In recent months, a loosely coordinated band of activists have displayed anti-Obama signs from atop overpasses across the U.S. After one town cracked down on the practice, conservatives involved in the movement are crying foul.
Officials in Campbell, Wis. recently passed legislation that specifically targets signage displayed within 100 feet of a bridge, precisely the areas targeted by the so-called “Overpasses for Impeachment” campaign.
Town Chairman Scott Johnson claims the decision stemmed from “them distracting people,” which he said “constituted a safety risk.”
Despite insistence that the new laws are designed to combat distracted driving, Tea Party-aligned activists naturally feel that they are being targeted. With permanent signs displayed on countless overpasses and individuals holding roadside banners for any number of causes, there seems to be little evidence these protesters are any more distracting than other highway diversions.
One individual’s attempt to simply display a flag from the town’s pedestrian bridge earned a $132 citation. Additionally, when protesters tried to work within the constraints of the law by wearing shirts that spell out “IMPEACH” instead of holding signs, police came in to disperse the activists.
Local resident Tony Curtis said that the town is “hiding behind safety as an excuse,” explaining that protesters were told they could engage in free speech provided they found another location. The bridge, however, provides the greatest platform through which they can engage the public.
Campbell lawmakers, many in the group feel, are attempting to stifle the right to express a conservative opinion. The use of city ordinances to outlaw these effective protests could ultimately catch on, leading to similar outcomes in other communities.
In response to what they say is discriminatory behavior, Tea Party activists in the vicinity are considering taking legal action against Campbell.
Governments have long used the power of lawmaking to keep dissension in check. The First Amendment to our Constitution, however, provides each citizen the right to publicly express his or her opinion.
Hopefully, this case will ultimately set a precedent, making it harder for municipalities to stifle free speech based on political ideology.
–Western Journalism staff writer
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