Sunday, July 28, 2013

Singers are right: the Capitol was designed to be a place of public discourse

Both court order and a description of the Capitol call the rotunda a public space and forum

I wanted to share some more thoughts on the unnecessary and highly restrictive practice of suppressing free speech rights being implemented by the Department of Administration, with regards to arrests being made on Solidarity Sing Along participants.

Namely, two excerpts -- one from a U.S. District Judge, the other naming the Capitol building a national historical site -- bear significant evidence of malicious and purposeful wrongdoing on the part of the DOA.

These excerpts point out the fact that the Capitol, while a place where business is meant to be conducted professionally in some areas, is a public forum and meeting place, especially in the rotunda area, where these singers have met regularly.

From the National Park Service:

The clear demarcation between public and private spaces is central to the development of Post’s scheme for the Capitol interior...More than any other space in the building, the Rotunda expresses the intended symbolism of the structure. With the Rotunda’s verticality culminating at the Edwin Blashfield painting, “The Resources of Wisconsin,” the space was intended to be morally uplifting and inspirational in a manner that references the dome’s ecclesiastical origins. Traditionally a symbol of religious expression, late nineteenth century American architects transformed the dome and its interior into one of civic celebration. The soaring rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol is designed to induce its citizenry to be, as individuals, among the “resources of Wisconsin.” Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim
Emphasis added.

Then there’s this observance of wrongdoing by the state, asserted by U.S. Judge William Conley, who writes:
...the Capitol rotunda is closer to an out-of-doors, traditional public forum in that it is a capacious gathering space with a unique history as a place for government and public discourse, which admits for (indeed, was designed for) a certain level of disturbance that would not be proper in a typical state office building or even a typical state capitol. And, although its four wings are offices for many, most of this work is sufficiently remote to be impacted by small groups...

...

Said another way: permits chill speech.
Emphases added.

The point of it all? It isn’t about getting a permit or not. The real issue here is that the singers are in a space that already allows -- and indeed encourages -- open and thoughtful speech and demonstrations.

Their assembly is perfectly legitimate, and cannot be defined as “unlawful” under Wisconsin state statutes. Such “unlawful assemblies” require that the group in question is capable of causing (and likely to induce) harm to others, or that the group may restrict others from entering or leaving the premises.

The Solidarity Sing Along singers have yet to show such wanton hostility towards visitors to the Capitol. They are not interfering with patrons of the building, nor those who are trying to conduct work there.

As Judge Conley stated in his preliminary injunction, “the burden of proof in free speech challenges rests on the government” to provide sufficient rationale to restrict speech in open areas, including the use of permits that can stifle free speech in their own ways. Without that rationale, Gov. Scott Walker and his Department of Administration have no case to make against open speech.

Which makes this a clear case of suppression of dissent on the part of the Walker administration. There isn’t a threat of harm of any sort, except perhaps a bruising of egos. Yet the arrests and the harassment go on.

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