Jake Browne yesterday holds the same sign in the same area
south of Independence Hall where a ranger last Saturday
said he could not protest, calling it a First-Amendnment-Free
THE DAY AFTER the opening of the National
Constitution Center, Jake Browne learned of two rights apparently
guaranteed to the rangers who patrol Independence National
right to be ignorant of U.S. laws you're protecting.
the right to be a bully.
Browne wanted on July 5th was to exercise his First Amendment
right to free speech.
afternoon, the 20-year-old history major sat on a bench
in the open-access park behind Independence Hall - where
he eats lunch every day on break from his summer job - and
propped a hand-lettered sign next to him. It read:
day, I look at the metal bike racks around Independence
Hall and think, 'That's so ugly,' " he said. "Even
with red-white-and-blue bunting it looks like prison."
Saturday, as he ate his ham sandwich, pretzels and grapes,
he displayed his sign.
didn't march, didn't use a bullhorn. He munched his lunch,
while the sign quietly told passersby how he felt.
10 minutes, a park ranger approached. According to Browne,
their conversation went like this:
"You can't protest here."
is federal property."
about my First Amendment right to free speech?"
is a First-Amendment-free zone."
how I wish I was making this up.
ranger, said Browne, said that protesters could exercise
free speech only in a designated First Amendment Zone -
in this case, outside the Visitor's Center, two blocks away.
was outraged, but felt too intimidated - this was a tall,
uniformed ranger, complete with shiny chin strap! - to call
the guy's bluff. He said he'd turn his sign around while
he ate his lunch."He
said, 'Fine. But I'm keeping my eye on you. If you turn
it back, you're under arrest.' "
how I wish I was making that up, too.
few minutes later, said Browne, about a dozen rangers lined
the metal fence near his bench and gave him the hairy eyeball
while he finished his pretzels and downed his Coke.
was very antagonizing," Browne said.
ACLU's Pennsylvania executive director thought so, too,
when I called to ask if he'd ever heard of a "First-Amendment-free
no such thing!" thundered David DiSabatino. "The
whole country is a free-speech zone!"
of today, that zone will once again include the very park,
in the cradle of liberty, where Browne sat last Saturday.
worked it out," said ACLU legal director Stefan
Presser, who took up Browne's cause yesterday with park
assistant superintendent Dennis Reidenbach. According to
Presser, the park official explained that some of the rangers
were new to the site and "didn't understand
Reidenbach and other park officials were not available for
comment yesterday, I will take Presser at his word when
he says that, by "history," both men
were referring to the 1988 injunction guaranteeing protesters
the right to assemble on the park. It was granted by federal
judge in response to police shooing protesters off the site
when Ronald Reagan was speechifying there.
the history the rangers need to familiarize themselves with
is the one being celebrated so richly in the park's beautiful
new Constitution Center.
ironic," said Browne. "There are ads
everywhere saying, 'Because of the Constitution, I've got
all these freedoms.' But two blocks away, the rangers are
trying to take them away."
don't know about you, but it makes me want to pull hard
on their chin straps and snap some sense into them.