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Thread: Which ‘right’ would you choose?

  1. #1
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    Which ‘right’ would you choose?


    alancing — or pitting — First Amendment free­doms Bagainst each other is tough work.

    Akin to asking a parent which child is the favorite, seeking to favor one or two of the five free­doms — religion, speech, press, assembly or petition — over the others creates an inherent contra­diction.

    But that’s exactly the dilemma for First Amendment advocates, along with the U.S. Supreme Court and Washington state law­makers, presented by a lawsuit and legislative debate over wheth­er names on a petition ought to be made public. And unlike parents, nobody gets to resolve the ques­tion by saying, “I love them all equally.”

    The issue involved is itself especially controversial: the proposed repeal of Washington’s law that extends to domestic partners most of the legal rights of married couples. Supporters of repeal gathered nearly 140,000 signatures, but the move failed last year at the ballot box.

    State law provides that the names and addresses of those signing petitions can be made public. Opponents of repeal sought the names, promising to post them on various Web sites.

    Fearing retaliation — from verbal confrontation to physical harm — the group Protect Marriage Washington and others petitioned in federal court for an order forbidding state authorities to disclose the names and addresses. Up come those vexing “pick one or two” First Amendment ques­tions:

    * Is signing a petition a form of “speech” or — because the result may place an issue on the ballot — is it more of a populist form of legislative action?

    * If signing is speech, then does a long-standing and valued element of political debate in this nation, the right of anonymous speech, come into play?

    * Even if it’s anonymous speech, a concept endorsed by the courts in various decisions, is there a larger public good attached to identifying peti­tion signers that outweighs the desirable goal of vigorous public debate that includes unidentified speakers?

    Which “child” in the First Amendment family would you select to win out?

    From the “names are public infor­mation” side:
    Signing a petition is a public act, all the more so when the law provides notice of that in advance. Signing may subject you to negative reaction, and the Web has made that possibility more likely. But vigorous debate is the heart of a democratic system and the marketplace of ideas. Yes, it’s possible on divisive issues that reaction to petition­signing could include personal confrontations, demonstrations outside your residence or loss of business customers and orders.

    For those worried about harass­ment and harm, laws exist to deal with those.

    From the “names should be con­fidential” side:
    Signing a petition is much like voting, for which we have legislated the secret ballot — recognizing that otherwise we well lose much public par­ticipation in politics. In other important instances, courts have recognized that intimidation or harm was so likely that secrecy was necessary, as in NAACP v.

    Alabama (1958). There, the Su­preme Court held that the public interest in disclosure was of lower constitutional importance than the group’s right to free speech and association. It said the likelihood of reprisal against members would have a “chilling effect” on the NAACP’s effective­ness and ability to recruit and retain members.

    “Names are public information”:

    There is real value in the public’s and news media’s being able to evaluate and follow an open petition process, including the practice of vetting signatures by public officials. Unchecked, peti­tioners may swell their numbers with fictitious signers. Officials vetting in secret may have an interest in swaying their review in one direction or the other.

    Transparency at each level serves to prevent fraud.

    “Names should be confidential”:

    In the case now before the U.S. Su­preme Court, a district court ini­tially said signing the Washington state repeal petition was a form of speech. And, some argue, given that it’s political speech, signing qualifies for the highest possible constitutional protection — some­times including anonymity.

    In a 1995 case, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, involv­ing campaign fliers, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the Supreme Court majority, said: “Under our Constitution, anony­mous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonym­ity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”

    From the nine justices of the Supreme Court, to the 147 mem­bers of the Washington state Leg­islature, to all of us as citizens: As the collective “parents” of the First Amendment, which “child” would you pick?

    Gene Policinski is vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center inWashing­ton, D.C. E-mail him at gpolicin­ski@

  2. #2
    Regular Member DanM's Avatar
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    The question seems to be whether the petition is"anonymous" speech or "non-anonymous" speech.

    If I create speech orsign-off on it in agreementand I want to be anonymous, I use my initials, sign "Anonymous" or "Identity Withheld", or something like that. I then have indicated my expectation of anonymity.

    If I create speechor sign-off on it in agreement and I sign my name and/or include my address, I have clearly moved up the ladder from anonymity and have much less of a credible argument that I "expected anonymity".

    Of course, petitions usually being required to have verifiable signatures, that makes most petitions a "non-anonymous" form of speech. That's how the cookie crumbles. I would advise, if one wishes to only engage in non-anonymous speech, only participate in such things as petitions that do not require verifiable signatures and public speaking or writing in which one may remain anonymous.
    "The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi . . ."--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

    He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by non-violently facing death, may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden.--M. K. Gandhi

    "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." --M. K. Gandhi

  3. #3
    Regular Member Bikenut's Avatar
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    Saginaw, Michigan, USA

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    The basic premise is flawed... and making the argument that there is a choice is not only misleading... but is a favorite tactic of the left to get folks arguing about something that isn't even there in the first place.

    There isn't any choice between "rights" to be made... there isn't any balance of "rights" to be struck.

    There is only "rights"... all "rights"... and the understanding that along with those "rights" (that are inherently owned by, not given to, every human being) there is also the responsibility to use those "rights" in a responsible manner.

    With "rights" come "responsibility". Period.

    Should petition signatures be public knowledge? Why not? Should someone signing a petition understand that by signing their privacy may be negatively impacted? Yes. Therefore the real "choice" isn't between which "right" should be more important than the other... it should be the individual making the "choice" to either sign the petition... or not.

    As an aside..... I am more and more alarmed by how the teachings of Saul Alinsky have permeated our very culture. More and more folks are using the "community organizer" mindset and tactics in their daily lives without even realizing that what Saul Alinsky promoted wasn't so much as a way of changing the country... but was instilling a way of thinking into people's lives that would eventually end up changing the country.

    I sincerely hope folks will research Mr. Saul Alinsky and his ilk to understand how insidiously his anti freedom teachings have impacted American culture.... mostly through our educational system and political arena.
    Gun control isn't about the gun at all.... for those who want gun control it is all about their own fragile egos, their own lack of self esteem, their own inner fears, and most importantly... their own desire to dominate others. And an openly carried gun is a slap in the face to all of those things.

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