FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CHARLESTON, WV - In a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia applauded a court decision today dismissing trespassing charges against a couple who wore anti-Bush t-shirts to a July 4th rally for the president at the state Capitol.
"It is ironic that two people were arrested on the Fourth of July for expressing their First Amendment rights," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia, which represented the couple, Jeff and Nicole Rank of Corpus Christi, Texas. "The ACLU applauds the city of Charleston's decision to drop the absurd trespassing charges against the Ranks."
The Ranks were arrested at a rally for President Bush at the West Virginia Statehouse after they removed an outer layer of clothing to reveal homemade anti-Bush t-shirts. Local law enforcement officials removed the couple from the event in handcuffs when they refused to cover the t-shirts.
The rally was billed as an official presidential visit and was open to the public.
Charleston Municipal Judge Carole Bloom dismissed the charges after a city attorney informed the court that the law enforcement officers had no authority to charge the Ranks with trespassing at the Statehouse. According to city officials, the arresting officers were acting under the direction of the Secret Service.
The incident was not the first time the ACLU has come to the defense of protesters at political rallies. In September, the ACLU asked a federal court for a nationwide injunction barring the Secret Service from directing local police to restrict protesters' access to appearances by President Bush and other senior administration officials. The Secret Service denied engaging in the practice, but agreed with the ACLU that such actions would be inappropriate and unlawful.
"The ACLU will be out there watching and monitoring to make sure free speech rights are not violated by any government agency, regardless of political affiliation," Schneider said.