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Is Independent Thought Extinct in America?

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April 28, 2009

Leslie Weise and Alex Young are two ACLU clients in a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s policy of excluding his critics from his official, public speaking events. Weise and Young had tickets to attend a March 21, 2005, Denver town hall on Social Security where then-President Bush was speaking, but they were forcibly removed because a bumper sticker on Weise’s car read: “No More Blood for Oil.” Their removal from the event was a violation of Weise and Young’s First Amendment right to free speech. The district court ruled against our clients last November; the ACLU is now appealing that decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and today filed a brief in that case.

When the Bush administration illegally prevented us from participating in a 2005 public forum in Denver because of the viewpoint expressed on the bumper sticker of the car in which we arrived, in retrospect we should not have been surprised because their policy of politically screening audiences throughout their eight years of rule became well known. This practice ensured the media coverage would only portray a public lavishing praise on a president despite his being increasingly isolated in policy and in the polls.

When, at the end of Bush’s presidency, a federal district court judge condoned this practice of exclusion and improperly ruled that such conduct did not violate our constitutional right to freedom of speech, it became very clear what was at risk: the right for Americans to express our own ideas without fear of government punishment. Fortunately, the ACLU is appealing that decision to help ensure basic freedoms, specified clearly in the Constitution, remain protected.

Being forcibly removed for the mere possibility of having a difference of opinion was, to say the least, frightening and disturbing. At time of the incident, we felt both angry and embarrassed. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen in America. Since that day, our anger has turned into fear and sadness for what these actions and decisions by our government officials could mean for the future of our country.

Now we stand with the ACLU in resolute determination to do all that we can to ensure this abuse of civil liberties doesn’t continue to happen in America. If such freedoms are not protected, we will live in a country where independent thought will be a thing of the past, and heavily redacted bumper stickers will be the only ones remaining on our cars.

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