Reclaiming the Public Forum: Courts Must Stand Firm Against Governmental Efforts to Displace Dissidence


Recognizing that the right to free speech for dissidents is increasingly at risk in the United States, this submission catalogs manifold methods the government has employed to constrain free speech and urges that courts not only serve as a bulwark against further erosion of public expression of dissent but endeavor to restore access to the public forum that recently has been lost. The submission surveys the background of the right to free expression and provides details and examples of the government’s increasing tendency to suppress dissident speech by deploying heavily armed police in demonstrations, committing violent acts against peaceful protesters, engaging in mass arrests, exaggerating the crimes charged against detained demonstrators, and holding those demonstrators for unreasonably long periods of time in ignominious conditions. Further, the paper briefly examines how such government actions violate constitutional protections of speech by deterring participation in public debate. Beyond such street tactics, government in recent years has begun placing public fora off limits by forcing dissenters into protest pens, determining based on viewpoint where they may engage in political expression, or limiting the landscape of free speech via privatization schemes. Thus, the paper analyzes the First Amendment implications of such developments and concludes that courts must defend the right to free expression by limiting or disallowing these governmental schemes that have the effect of limiting access to the public forum.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law

Date of this Version

February 2005