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Letter of the Day: An offensive ban

  • The Sonoma County courthouse (The Press Democrat)

An offensive ban

EDITOR: Louis Brandeis wrote that “experience should teach us to be most on guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent.” His words are relevant to the courthouse speech ban (“Judge bans protests at SR courthouse,” Aug. 27).

This bureaucratic order purports to protect the public from some unknown disruption caused by unsanctioned speech at the courthouse, including the symbolic front steps. When did the public request such gratuitous assistance? The citizens of Sonoma County cherish their freedom of speech, and they're used to a robust competition of ideas.

Alternatively, is the ban justified because the court is incapable of effectively responding to any unreasonable disruptions? No. Court officials are inherently empowered to maintain dignity and decorum in the courtrooms and their immediate surroundings.

The unnecessary order degrades the essential expectation that the courthouse is the one public location where civil liberty disputes can be fairly heard and resolved. Although it undoubtedly enhances a sense of government control, that feeling comes at the cost of potentially chilling the speech of members of the public and the court's employees.

In a time when civil liberties are waning, it's incredible that court officials would issue a speech ban. The obvious solution is to strike the offensive ban. This would honor America's maxim: “The price for the preservation of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

MARK TANSIL

Judge, Sonoma County Superior Court

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