Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)
Friday, February 11, 2011
Bubblehead: First Amendment Defender Or Total Ass?
Hoping to continue my occasional forays into the world of the citizen journalist (my earlier efforts are here and here), I went to my first state legislative hearing yesterday. Originally, I was going to go see the Health Care Bill Nullification hearing, but really, who wants to head downtown at 8 am on their day off? So, since my wife wanted to testify at the Education Reform hearing anyway, I decided to cover that one as a citizen-journalist.
I was off to a bad start when I forgot to bring my camera, but we got there in time to stand in line to sign up to testify. I wasn't planning on testifying, but stood in line to sign up for my son, who had seen some young women he knew already in the committee room and went in to talk to them. Someone came up to the line with a box of papers and passed them out to the people standing in line. After a few minutes, my wife was talking to some of the other people in line, so I started reading the handout. It turned out to be a not-very-clever satire of the handout the committee gave out of guidelines for testifying to the committee. At this point, it got interesting.
A young woman with an official nametag came up to me, said "This is not authorized", and literally ripped the sheet out of my hand. She tried to do the same thing with my wife's written testimony, repeating "This is not authorized". My wife said, "Hey, this is my testimony. You can't have it". The young woman continued moving down the line, ripping papers from people's hands, then found a large pile of the papers on a bench and started collecting them.
At this point, I had my wits back together (this had pretty much just come out of the blue) so I mentioned to the young lady that it seemed like these papers were probably protected by the First Amendment. She collected all the papers and left. We were talking about this weird event when my wife noticed the young lady walking down the hall again. I started speaking a little more loudly about the First Amendment to the people behind me, and she turned around and said "Yes?". I complained, in what I thought was a reasonable tone of voice, that such satire was protected by the First Amendment; she agreed that it was. She also apologized for trying to rip my wife's testimony from her hand. She then almost started crying, complaining that the people at yesterday's hearing had been so rude, and why did she even get assigned to this committee? (She is the Senate Education committee secretary.) It was kind of pathetic. I did make a point of reading her nametag and mentioning that I wanted to get her name right when I reported it on social media and "my popular blog". (As it turned out, I didn't get her name right when I posted it on Facebook; I only saw the last three letters of her first name, and extrapolated incorrectly.)
At this point, I'm thinking this is more funny than anything else -- the young lady's near breakdown about how hard her job was made it much less sinister. What happened next, however, wasn't so funny. After we signed up on the sheet to testify, a Capitol policeman came up to me and asked me to follow him. He brought be outside the door, I offered my ID (my retired military ID; I could see where this was heading). He came off as a real tough guy, saying a lobbyist had reported that I was being "an ass" to the young lady. I told him what happened, and mentioned that the pamphlets were clearly protected by the First Amendment, and no, I didn't appreciate my First Amendment rights being violated. I didn't mention the word "theft", although I'm pretty sure that the law would say that a piece of paper given freely to me was now mine. Even after I mentioned the First Amendment, the Capitol policeman continued to try to intimidate me, to what end I can't figure out -- it was fairly obvious I wasn't going to back down. He ended up saying that maybe "mutual apologies" were in order. Sure, I said, I'd apologize that the young lady was upset that I was defending my First Amendment rights. [During this exchange, I did get a little obnoxious in continually mentioning my 21 years on active duty, and asking him how many years on active duty he had.]
At this point, I immediately posted what happened in Facebook, and got some suggestions. One person suggested I file charges, and offered to help collect witness statements. (He was also at the meeting.) Another suggested I should have broken out lines from this classic clip:
So, what do you think? Was I being a jerk to a poor young lady just trying to do her job? Or, given that the state establishment is very much behind this bill while the majority of the public opposes it, some quite vocally, and that it's unlikely that this young woman would have come up with the idea to steal these pamphlets on her own, should I have stood up even more against what was clearly a violation of my First Amendment rights, let alone my property rights?
I'm Joel Kennedy -- a married, 49 year old retired submarine officer and esophageal cancer survivor with three kids who has finally made the transition to civilian life. Politically, I'm a moderate realist. In Idaho, that makes me a Democrat. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me. Don't call me at home.)