Last week, President Obama signed into law the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. This law permits Secret Service agents to designate any place they wish as a place where free speech, association and petition of the government are prohibited. And it permits the Secret Service to make these determinations based on the content of speech.
Thus, federal agents whose work is to protect public officials and their friends may prohibit the speech and the gatherings of folks who disagree with those officials or permit the speech and the gatherings of those who would praise them, even though the First Amendment condemns content-based speech discrimination by the government. The new law also provides that anyone who gathers in a "restricted" area may be prosecuted. And because the statute does not require the government to prove intent, a person accidentally in a restricted area can be charged and prosecuted, as well.
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How much of the Constitution are we willing to forfeit to protect the orderly working of the executive branch? An attack upon the person of the President of the United States is a very serious matter because it is an attempt to undo the results of elections. Elections which, not incidentally, are constitutionally provided for. As such, they are an unconstitutional act, that is, they are repugnant to the Constitution and they must not be permitted.
Recently we have seen a series of movies in which the hero is in the business of saving the President from bad guys or the President himself if he happens to be Harrison Ford saves his own life while saving the world. This has conditioned the public to accept the idea that the person of the president must be protected at all costs.
Moreover, we have seen the assassination of President Kennedy in my lifetime and the attempted assassinations of Presidents Truman, Ford and Reagan. In 1968 we witnessed the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and at about that time we saw the attempted assassination of Gov. Wallace.
These crimes have further conditioned the country to accept the violations of the First Amendment represented by this statute. In this climate it is very difficult to raise the question I started this reply with, what price are we willing to pay to preserve the orderly functioning of government? In other words, is it more important to protect the President from physical harm than it is to facilitate the free expression of ideas, the right to petition the government, the right to associate? Is it a good idea for the President to be entirely free of concern about the mood of the public, or should the man who has so much power be subconsciously reminded that there are limits?
If we place the chief executive in an impervious bubble how can he learn his limits? As an individual, he is no more important than any other citizen. As a President he is the embodiment of one branch of government and that branch must be permitted to function without the will of the people being distorted by assassination. On the other hand, an isolated President is likely a tyrannical President, certainly an imperious President. While it is harmful to society to distort government by harming the person of the President, when does it become more harmful to society distort the President's psyche by isolating him from the people and their will?
Today we have come to the point at which if one is not careful in the very language he uses in addressing the issue, he might very well be visited by some very unsmiling men and women in sunglasses and with ear pieces who make a habit of talking into their cufflinks. I am sure the experience is daunting.
In short, free speech has already been chilled.
It is regrettable that the Congress the United States concerning this issue, as it has on so many issues lately, has failed its duty fully to debate and consider these questions.
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