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The Cost of Free Speech – City Ordinances and Permit Fees

April 23, 2010 By: jaysays Category: Discrimination, Headline

Pay Up or Shut Up - The Cost of Free SpeechIn 2007, the International Woman’s Day March planned to hit the streets of San Antonio to support women around the globe.  However, San Antonio parade ordinances require not only permitting, but a fee for the services by the police department for traffic control and other safety matters.

On its face this sounds like a very reasonable ordinance; if you want the city to block streets and provide public safety, then you should have to reimburse the city for the costs, but in San Antonio (and other jurisdictions), not all events are charged equally.

The International Woman’s Day March Planning Committee and the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition had enough of this inequality after falling victim to the associated fees and filed suit against the city for violation of their first amendment rights.  The lower court, overseen by Judge Xavier Rodriguez, issued an injunction against the city preventing enforcement of the policy.  In 2008, the city issued a new ordinance (that would not be subject to the injunction against the original ordinance) and continued collecting fees for parades (City of San Antonio Ordinance No. 2008-03-13-0201).

The new ordinance declared that the city would not charge the first $3,000.00 for “First Amendment Activity;” however, estimates from the city indicate that the charges could be from $4,000.00 – $30,000.00 for political and expressive marches (less the $3,000.00 waiver).  While these costs are extreme and deter many from planning such events, the inequality doesn’t stop there.

Under the 2008 Ordinance, three marches deemed as having “political appeal” have the fees associated with traffic control waived: The Diez y Seis Parade, the Martin Luther King March and the Veteran’s Day Parade.  Further, in 2008, the City Council of San Antonio determined numerous other marches would have the fees waived, including: the Cesar Chavez March, the 60+ Mardi Gras Parade, Fiesta Flambeau Parade, the Battle of the Roses Parade, the King William Parade, the San Antonio Marathon, and the Pilgrimage to the Alamo.

In other words, if the city endorses the speech you wish to promote, you are not charged these excessive fees; however, if the city feels the speech is not worthy of their approval, the charges can be extraordinary.

In March, 2009, Judge Fred Biery dissolved the injunction and dismissed the Plaintiffs’ case against the city on summary judgment.  The Plaintiffs appealed, which brings us to today.  The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans on April 27th.

If you haven’t noticed, this case has broad and sweeping impact on the current LGBT rights movement, particularly the grassroots groups that certainly could not afford a $50,000.00 bill from the city for traffic control and whose message would not likely be endorsed by the city.  In their Second Amended Petition, Plaintiffs acknowledge this, stating:

“The paradigm public forum for free speech and associative expression in San Antonio is the public streets and sidewalks. Political and expressive marches in the public streets have long been a way for groups, particularly groups that lack governmental or institutional power and resources, to express their views and to inform other members of the public about issues of importance to our communities. To make access to public street marches available only to those with political influence or financial wealth is to profoundly limit freedom of speech and the quality of public debate in San Antonio.”

A copy of Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Petition is available here.

NOTE: The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center of San Antonio is planning a bus trip to New Orleans to take concerned members of the community to the oral arguments.  No one is being denied a ride on the bus regardless of whether or not they can afford the charges.  Therefore, Esperanza can use our help.  Please consider making a donation to assist them in paying for the trip.  You may do so at this link.

Why Would You Say That – Really?

June 03, 2009 By: MJ Category: Commentary, Thought of the Gay

reallyWhen I was a shop steward and a union activist (not so very long ago) I fought for the rights of my co-workers and myself.  We had a contract between our Union and the major corporation we worked for – and as shop stewards our purpose was to make sure that the rights of not even of one person were violated under that contract.  Another side of that same purpose was to educate and assist our co-workers so that no union members knowingly violated the contract either.  More importantly we worked really hard to try to resolve issues before getting to the point of needing to file grievances or other types of legal complaints.

There were dissenters within our membership who felt from time to time that the Union was handling things wrong and they were entitled to their opinion.  My fellow stewards and I found that communication and compassion was a very important part of what we did.  It was a job I gladly volunteered for and, although it took a significant amount of my own time, I’m still glad I was a part of that.

Saying things about other people when you don’t really know … – now I’m thinking you are likely wondering how in the world I jumped to this topic.  Well, it has to do with what I have already mentioned and with what I am about to mention.  In the Union activism there were things that were said (by members of management and also by some co-workers) – that were not very nice – and there were whispers and rumors and other unpleasant references.  In the matter of the other issue (which I will get into shortly) the notion of saying something without really having first hand knowledge has been and still is a very great problem.  Sometimes the right to saying some of these things is protected by law – meaning that the person making the statements is protected by law – under certain circumstances.  The laws and the circumstances vary by state, country and province.  I may have left out a geographic designation or two in that description but I hope you get the idea.

Making a statement about an individual (or a particular group of people) can be as innocent as saying “(so and so) is as silly as a goose” or as hateful as words and phrases I feel are not appropriate to print in a respectable forum such as this.  When somebody makes a statement or accusation about another person (or group of people) and, for example –  the statement or accusation is false and damaging to that person (or group) – the law can possibly become involved depending on where this action takes place, etc.

As a shop steward when I was told by some that my actions were foolish or were going to hurt the company or other similar things, I either defended my actions with facts or just did not answer to what was said.  Some of the co-workers I represented were told things by their direct supervisors which simply and contractually were not correct – my initial response was to advise the co-worker what the correct information was – then mediate an agreement with the supervisor to resolve the situation.  Sounds relatively simple and sometimes it was – but sometimes it grew into the grievance process and sometimes even further than that.

Now I’ve just about come to that other issue (I really am getting there).  First though I want to say that I am now a gay activist, and also that I fully believe in the freedom of speech – as protected by the Bill of Rights – and here it is:

Article – the third [Amendment I]:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yes the law in this country is quite specific.  I really do wonder though, why anybody would really want to specifically say anything that would hurt another person – or a specific group of people – in any way.  I would like to look at these issues from the following point of view:

  • Everybody I have ever met has feelings (emotions) – some people hide those feelings more deeply than others – some people are quite pronounced with their feelings – and many are somewhere in between.
  • I don’t understand why one person would want to purposefully hurt the feelings of another person – publicly or privately.
  • I don’t understand why one person would want to purposefully hurt the feelings of an entire group of people – publicly or privately.

Then there is this;  I don’t understand  … how in any way or form of being – one person could claim to know what another person is feeling in terms of attraction toward someone of their own gender or toward someone of the opposite gender.

Now … I think you might know where I’m going with this.  Some heterosexual adults (or at least some of the adults publicly claiming to be heterosexual) claim to know exactly what sexual attraction feels like for a homosexual person.  I absolutely don’t understand why or how.  I mean even if you cut your finger and I cut my finger exactly the same way (accidentally hypothetically and minor injuries only of course) we are going to feel a different amount of pain, the bleeding will take a slightly different amount of time to stop and the healing will be different.  Your worry or concerns about the cut and the details of it will be different from mine, you might use a different type of bandage than I do or you might not even use a bandage at all.  The list of differences can go on and on and on.

Just looking at an example like that, which doesn’t even deal with heterosexuality or homosexuality, I’m hoping I have  made a point here – that you don’t feel absolutely what everybody else feels.  Nobody does. Things just don’t happen like that.  So – if you are heterosexual and I am homosexual (which I am – a lesbian, in fact) there is really no way that you can accurately tell me who I am attracted to sexually (or in any other way) any more than I can tell you who you are attracted to sexually (or in any other way).  So ……  why in the world (just using a commonly used saying here) would you insist that homosexuality is a choice?  Why in the world would you say that I am really attracted to persons of the opposite sex (and that I am really a  heterosexual) but that I have decided I would rather be with somebody of my own/same gender?  I mean – free speech laws/rights and all that considered – you have the legal right to say it – but why in the world would you want to say that – really??  To my way of thinking  – well it just absolutely makes no sense.  I am homosexual and (as a lesbian) I am attracted to ladies.

Well wait a minute, though, using your logic does that really mean that even though you are heterosexual you are really attracted to persons of your same gender but have decided instead to stick with persons of the opposite gender ?????

Thank-you !

About the Author: MJ, a/k/a pngwnz, is summarizing LGBT current events each week for jaysays.com.  Her work can be found under the LGBT Notable News Happenings.  She is an out lesbian with an affinity for the music of Phil Collins and Carole King. She has been an invaluable resource as a reader and idea bouncer-off-er [yeah, that’s the word we are using] and we are pleased to have her as part of the team!

Stupid Things People Say About Gays: Under Federal Hate Crimes, Church Will Be Responsible for Gay Bashing Parishioners

May 18, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Stupid Things People Say About Gays

Stupid Things People Say About GaysIn another article full of misleading, inaccurate information [o.k. lies] the Church Executive is reporting that Hate Crimes legislation on the federal level will lead to the prosecution of those expressing the opinion that homosexuality is a sin.

But the 1,400-member National Religious Broadcasters says Christian broadcasters and even pastors covering culturally unpopular views, such as preaching homosexuality as sin, could face prosecution just for expressing their religious views because their teachings could be blamed for inciting violence.

In previous posts, I’ve covered why this view is inaccurate and suggested people read the text of the bill and make their own conclusions, the obvious being that the bill is not designed and clearly is not about “speech.”  Therefore, we move on from that “stupid things people say about gays” onto a stupid comment about the Church Executive article.

The problem is that if someone leaves the church and decides to act out the Church and preacher will be held responsible. You need to brush up on what transpired in Canada and if you don’t think this will happen here you are very naive.

Perhaps the person spouting that “I” – yes this was a direct comment to me – need to brush up on what occurred in Canada to see that Canadian law applies to U.S. proposed legislation, wasn’t aware that Canada has a law against “Hate Speech.” Canada’s law, which is arguably under-enforced, actually prohibits Hate Propaganda under Sections 318 & 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Hate propaganda would include the written or spoke word, thus criminalizing preaching from the pulpit that we gather up the Wiccans and burn them.

This is contrary to the proposed U.S. Legislation.  In fact, there have been interesting cases protecting a preacher in the United States against bans on his/her first amendment right.  According to a brilliant article at Religious Tolerance:

[…] a conservative Christian teleminister in the early 1990s advocated the execution of all Wiccans in the U.S. More recently, a Baptist pastor from Texas advocated that the U.S. army round up Wiccans and burn them alive with napalm. Both clergy were immune from prosecution due to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment which guarantees almost complete freedom of speech in the country.

So without any legal support, the Religious Reich makes these claims using the voice of the shepard and the flock follows.  They continue to advocate against protections from brutal, violent attacks because their “free speech” will be violated; although, the truth is the same protections we [LGBT people] ask for, will protect those who deny us the same protections; our rights to free speech and protections against crimes:

motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the State, local, or Tribal hate crime laws. [emphasis added]