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Guest opinion column submitted by David Warren–
At the Sept. 28 Citrus Heights City Council meeting, the Cub Scouts presented and posted the colors, followed by leading the Salute to the Flag. As the audience took their seats, Mayor Jeff Slowey said “thank you for nobody in the audience taking a knee,” a derogatory reference to athletes who for some demonstrated their concern about social issues or in response to statements made by the President of the United States. Regretfully, no member of the city council criticized the inappropriate statement.
Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts were present at the city council meeting for an educational experience. They may have learned that although freedom of speech is a constitutional right, those who exercise that freedom in a way the mayor disagrees with cannot be tolerated.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution “prohibits the making of any law respecting . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” The California Constitution at Article I §2(a) states: “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”
The price of freedom of speech is not censoring or preventing the actions or words which one finds intolerable, stupid, ignorant and uninformed, so long as they are nonviolent. Every member of the city council must govern by the oft-quoted legal axiom “Each side takes the position of the man who was arrested for swinging his arms and hitting another in the nose, and asked the judge if he did not have a right to swing his arms in a free country. ‘Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.’” Unfortunately, the mayor appears to have forgotten his responsibility to uphold all provisions of the Constitution as the nonviolent “taking a knee” did not strike the mayor’s nose.
The California oath of office states: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”
Also on The Sentinel: The Civic Minute: What’s happening at Citrus Heights city hall? (Oct. 12)
The mayor swore to protect freedom of speech for all persons, including Citrus Heights residents. The mayor’s constitutional freedom of speech as a private citizen includes expressing the opinion that athletes not standing for the National Anthem is wrong. However, when the mayor speaks in his capacity as the chief spokesman for all residents of the City of Citrus Heights, the mayor should not proffer those opinions during a city council meeting, because the mayor’s duty is to represent all residents, not only those who agree with him.
A recent poll of college students revealed that 20% of college students agree that violence is acceptable to silence offensive speech. In communities across the country, public demonstrations and civil disobedience became out-of-control riots. Nationally, rhetoric has divided the country, not united it. City council members in their official roles have a responsibility to lead by example and unite the citizenry by praising the exercise of freedom of speech, no matter how repugnant.
Apparently too long ago, and now apparently forgotten by the mayor, incidents such as George Wallace’s attempts at the University of Alabama to preserve segregation, and the accusation that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist, led to youthful civil disobedience, which culminated in the need for national introspection after the violence outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
When individuals demonstrate disagreement in a nonviolent manner on issues of public concern, they do not show any lack of respect for the military or veterans, the National Anthem, and the pledge of allegiance. The mayor’s “teaching moment” should have been to reinforce that, although some people in the council chambers that night believed that not standing for the National Anthem is disrespectful and insults those that have been wounded or died protecting our constitutional freedoms, honoring those who have served includes assuring that the sacrifice is not forgotten by those who believe that they, and they alone, know what is appropriate conduct and speech.
At the very least, the mayor in his role as the titular leader of the City Citrus Heights and all city council members should publicly disavow the Sept. 28 statement and reaffirm respect for the constitutional right to freedom of speech, no matter how offensive. That is true democracy.
David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety. He can be reached at David@forpublicsafety.com.
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