Tolerance and Lines

A judge has banned an anti-abortion protester from setting foot in Washington, DC. Surely that’s going too far, even though the guy has made a repeated nuisance of himself.

The ruling came about because the guy climbed a tree with his protest sign to be within sight of the President during the Inauguration on Monday. Capitol police ordered him down and even tried to reach him with a ladder, but he stayed out of reach, and in the tree, for five hours.

I’m sure that’s not the first time someone has climbed a tree to get a better view of an inauguration. But these days, there’s an understandable concern the guy might be hiding a long-range rifle to shoot the President with as well as a sign. I can see a public safety reason for wanting him out of the tree; it was not unreasonable to order him down. But banned from DC entirely?

Here’s the part of the article I found most interesting:

Grogan, 47, who calls himself “Pastor Rick” and runs a ministry and boarding house in Los Angeles, admits he’s an irritant, racking up about 10 arrests and a half-dozen convictions in two years in House and Senate buildings alone.

He said he patiently waits for the proceedings to be gaveled into recess before he stands and shouts — most recently in the Senate gallery when he screamed that legal abortions caused the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“I preach, and I preach loudly on Capitol Hill,” said Grogan, who said he’s never spent more than a few days in jail. He’s been thrown out of a presidential debate, a Major League Baseball game attended by Mitt Romney and too many buildings to count.

First off, he can’t possibly be running anything in Los Angeles if he spends that much time in DC, but let’s go on — so the guy stands up in the Senate and screams that legal abortion caused the massacre in Newtown. Which is nuts. On the one hand, people have a right to speak, and I acknowledge that what’s insanity to me might be profound to someone else.

On the other hand, the Senate is dysfunctional enough without being interrupted by looney-tunes screaming nonsense from the balcony. As much as I respect protesters, there’s a point at which their exercise of free speech would hold the Senate hostage to a balcony full of screamers, day in and day out. And I would say the same thing about Code Pink as this guy. Just silently holding a sign or wearing a message T-shirt ought to be tolerated, though, and they haven’t always been.

On the other other hand, there’s seems to be nothing we can do about the Crazy on the Senate floor. Not to mention the Asshole.

I’m sure the Right will use this guy to claim that “liberals” are turning the U.S. into a police state. But as a long-time history buff, I assure you that people — both officials and private citizens — were less tolerant of this kind of repeated public obnoxiousness in days past. In the 19th century, Preacher Grogan would have been hauled into an alley and beaten to a pulp by either police or annoyed citizens for being obnoxious. First Amendment or no First Amendment. I’m not saying that was better; I’m just saying that’s how it was.

So what do we do about the Rev. Grogan? Do we want to set a precedent for how far a court may deny any individual access to government? On the other hand, how many public resources must be used to keep an eye on him, in case he decides to take his crusade to the next level and start shooting?

Liberals hate “free speech zones,” I know, but forget that among the first such zones were buffer zones put around abortion clinics to keep the Fetus People from threatening staff or blocking patients from going into the clinics. Another early use of free speech zones were rules keeping religious groups from aggressive proselytizing in airports.

Maybe what we need is a clearer set of rules, so that there’s a clear distinction between genuine security and public nuisance concerns and the right of the people to speak our minds without being herded into “zones.” Or banned from Washington DC.