posted on Aug, 29 2004 @ 09:55 PM
GOV. BUSH AND CANDIDATE BUSH HAVE DIFFICULTY WITH FREEDOM
By CHARLES LEVENDOSKY
Someone needs to teach GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush what the First Amendment means. As governor of Texas, he hasn't paid much attention
to free speech rights of Texas demonstrators, the right to petition, or the religious liberty of those who live in his state. Now that he seeks the
highest elected office in the land, he should be required to sign up for a course on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bush told the peaceful environmental protesters demonstrating outside the governor's mansion, that "the rules have changed"
and ordered the protesters arrested. The governor seems to think he can, by fiat, simply hack away "the right of the people to peaceably assemble and
to petition the government for a redress of grievances," to quote a portion of the First Amendment.
The public sidewalk outside the grounds of the Texas governor's mansion has a long tradition of being a place for rallies, protests and even press
conferences. But in March, Gov. Bush ordered law enforcement officials to warn protesters that they were subject to arrest. In April, the police began
arresting demonstrators. On at least four occasions, citizen groups were arrested when they did not disperse quickly enough to suit state police
officers, according to the American Civil Liberties lawsuit filed on behalf of the demonstrators.
These groups were protesting state policies that they think encourage industrial pollution. They urged the passage of clean air laws. Their lobbying
efforts -- their right to petition the government to correct the situation -- were abruptly ended by police action. During this same period, clean air
legislation lost by a slim margin in the Texas Legislature. It is quite possible that the governor's action stymied protesters' goal to educate
Texas legislators on the issue.
Some of the demonstrators were arrested and held overnight and then released without being charged -- as there was no violation of any existing Texas
law. They weren't blocking access to the governor's mansion or causing a traffic safety hazard.
More ominously, these demonstrators were warned they would be arrested and jailed again if they continued in their protest. Apparently, peaceful
expression of opinion and criticism of the governor's policies is not allowed in Texas -- under the administration of Gov. George W. Bush.
The so-called rule changes that Gov. Bush announced in April have never been published or made public. They remain secret rules. Anti-democratic
rules. The ACLU complaint states: "These hidden rules that essentially give unlimited police discretion to exclude and arrest critics, when they make
criticism public, violate Texas Constitutional rights to free speech, petition, equal protection, due process, and freedom from unreasonable
seizures." Not to mention a violation of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Candidate Bush, author of "compassionate conservativism," isn't so compassionate to critics of his state's policies. His secret rules are
obviously designed to intimidate Texas citizens who protest.
Imagine this man as president of the United States. Criticism of the federal government is endemic to the American people. It's our great strength as
a nation. We all feel we have a right and even a duty to debate public policy, proposed legislation and the path our leaders take. We believe in the
right to protest, criticize and encourage change in polices we think are wrong.
The American people can even protest U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the sidewalk in front of the court building. The same is true of demonstrators in
front of the White House, as long as they are behind the concrete barricades. Would Bush seek to "change the rules" if he were president?
Gov. Bush pushed for a school voucher law in Texas in his state address in January. His voucher law would have used taxpayer money to support
religious private schools. Again, a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has already held that
taxpayers cannot be forced to support religious institutions. Fortunately, the state Legislature is wiser than Bush and failed to pass a voucher bill.
On Sept. 2 in Los Angeles, candidate Bush said that schools receiving Title I money -- those schools in the poorest neighborhoods -- should no longer
be federally funded if they can't meet certain standards. The money instead would be given to the parents to use to send their children to private
schools. Private schools include religious schools.
The Texas Legislature was wise enough not to buy Gov. Bush's school voucher plan. And the American people are certainly savvy enough not to buy
candidate Bush's plan, either.
The Bush plan, instead of trying to improve public schools in poorer districts, strips Title I federal money from them and from our children of
poverty. It's an illusion foisted on the poor that the tax dollars they would receive would be sufficient to send their children to good private
schools. In reality, the money they would receive would be thousands of dollars too little each year.
Over the past few decades, California has drained money and resources from its public schools. The result has been to transform one of the best public
school systems in the nation into one of the worst. Bush's remedy would only repeat California's tragic error and spread it nationwide. And, let us
not forget, it violates the First Amendment, too.
We should remember, this is the same presidential candidate who has tried to stop all parodies of him, his candidacy and his political stances on the
World Wide Web. This is the same candidate who said in a televised news conference, "There ought to be limits to freedom." His political track
record in Texas, though short, shows that his statement wasn't a gaffe, but truly reveals his motivations and beliefs.
And this is the man who wants to be the leader of the nation which represents the world's great hope for liberty?
(Charles Levendosky is the editorial page editor of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune. His commentary has won numerous national First Amendment awards
and is now distributed by the New York Times wire service.)
Copyright Casper Star-Tribune
September 5, 1999
cle from 1999 when he was still governor of Texas.