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DENVER --White House event staffers unlawfully removed two Denver residents from a town hall discussion with President Bush because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, charged the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal lawsuit filed today.
“The government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who is the lead counsel in this case. “The president should be willing to be in the same room with people who might disagree with him, especially at a public, taxpayer-funded town hall.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Leslie Weise and Alex Young, who gained national attention after being removed from a March 21 event with President Bush. The presidential visit was open to the public and advertised as a town hall “conversation” on Social Security reform. But the ACLU lawsuit charges that Weise and Young, who had obtained tickets from the office of Representative Bob Beauprez and had caused no disruption at the town hall, were removed from the event solely because of their perceived political views.
After approaching the security metal detectors, Weise was asked to show her identification, while Young was allowed in. The staff at the event then told her that she had to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, arrived. He wore a dark suit, earpiece and lapel pin. He told Weise that she had been “ID’d” and that if she had any ill intentions she would be arrested. She assured him that she did not and was allowed to proceed to her seat, where Young was waiting.
According to the lawsuit, Casper consulted with other White House event staffers who advised him of a White House policy prohibiting people from attending this public event if they held a viewpoint other than that of the president. Casper then ran back to Weise and Young and forced them to leave.
After the incident, Secret Service confirmed to Weise and Young that they were removed because a White House event staffer noticed that Weise had a “No More Blood for Oil” bumper sticker on her car. Eight of the nine members of the Colorado congressional delegation, including Democrats and Republicans, have since publicly condemned what happened to Weise and Young, and have called for answers from the White House.
“What was supposed to be an historic opportunity for us to attend an event with a sitting president quickly turned into a humiliating and frightening experience,” Weise said. “We had every right to attend the president’s event, and have decided to fight back to protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans.”
In addition to Casper, today’s lawsuit names Denver resident Jay Bob Klinkerman as a defendant, as well as five unidentified White House event staffers. Attorneys said that when they uncover the identities of those as-yet-unknown officials, they will be named in the lawsuit.
“We believe that our clients were expelled from this public meeting on the basis of a policy formulated in Washington and implemented throughout the country,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “This case is not just about two people, it is about protecting the rights and liberties of every single American.”
The ACLU said that similar incidents have occurred at presidential visits across the country. According to news reports, individuals considered to have critical viewpoints were removed or excluded from Social Security town hall meetings in Arizona, North Dakota and New Hampshire.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. In addition to Hansen and Silverstein, attorneys in the case are Catherine Crump of the national ACLU and Martha Tierney and Jerremy Ramp of Denver-based law firm Kelly Haglund Garnsey & Kahn, who are acting as ACLU of Colorado cooperating attorneys.
Weise and Young have created a Web site with background information on the incident at: www.denverthree.org.
For a copy of the lawsuit go to: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/21687lgl20051121.html
Additional statements by Weise and Young are available at: www.freespeech/gen/21704res20051121.html.