Friday, December 2, 2011

An Absurd View of Free Speech on City Market

These are not Market protesters, but they look very similar.
It made me a little queasy today when I read that the lawyers for the group that runs Roanoke's City Market Building said--in court--"Plowshare overestimates its First Amendment rights."

How does one "overestimate" free speech unless it's hate speech or yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater? Standing quietly and peacefully on less than a full foot of curb, holding up an anti-war sign is not an abuse of free speech. It is not disruptive of anything going on inside the building or even on the sidewalk, either. In fact, the gatherings block far less of the sidewalk than do the dining tables on the sides of the buildings which often push foot traffic into the street. I've watched these protesters for years and even hardline war mongers would have very little difficulty respecting their dignity.

The argument, of course, is whether the Plowshare Peace Center can continue its monthly silent vigils--which have been held for years and which often include some people I respect a great deal--on the city-owned sidewalk in front of the Market Building, which the city also owns.

We have a board of directors that runs the building--and is doing a good job, considering how ugly the renovation is--telling us bluntly that running a few restaurant businesses is more important than an American's right to express an opinion in public and in a publicly-owned venue. I strongly disagree with that devaluation of the First Amendment and will be sad for our country and our freedom if that view carries.



  1. A forgotten point is that where they protest is not in any way near any outside dining seats.....the outside dining seats are located on the sides of the building...not the front...

  2. I noticed that there was a huge demonstration around the market building last night. The road was blocked and, based on the picture I saw in this morning's Roanoke Times, it looked like access to The Market Building was being hindered. I wonder why so many were allowed to assemble freely when so few are denied their right?

  3. Bill: You could make the point that the demonstration last night (a Christmas tree lighting) was religious in nature and that the city has no business endorsing a religion. But nobody has said that because peaceful demonstrations are part of the fabric of our culture and the lighting was a demonstration of appreciation for the season.