What happened to the ‘free’ in free speech?

This summer’s political conventions failed the spirit of the First Amendment.

Though more than a few news analysts expected the Republican National Convention held in New York last week to be a debacle on the level of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, it ended without serious incident.

The largest disturbances were the two interruptions to President George W. Bush’s acceptance speech, to which Bush characteristically responded by disconnecting and blindly forging ahead, sticking to the script.

Sadly, it seems political dissent has devolved into something that is no longer listened to nor even truly spoken.

This was evident during the Republican National Convention held this year. In limiting access to places such as Central Park, New York officials decided protests and speech could be free, though confined to one area and excluded from others. Clearly, speech is not free if bureaucrats can dictate where it occurs.

Officials also erroneously determined that speech is free when they can limit when it is said. In New York, permits limited the hours in which people could demonstrate. This didn’t even comply with the minimum legal requirements, as the New York Police Department was fined by a judge for holding nearly 500 hundred people in custody until Bush’s address was over.

There are times when people must take their outrage to the streets. Anger and dissent cannot be healthily restrained to a specific time and a place.

The Republicans are not alone in silencing dissent. The Democratic National Convention relegated protestors to concrete barricades and barbed wire, and in an Orwellian twist called them “free speech zones,” an oxymoron if there ever was one.

As we stated in July, while the conventions’ policies may have been legal, they violated the spirit of the First Amendment. Democracy cannot function when speech is restricted by arbitrary bureaucratic fiat.