I’ve Got Some Speech for You
The city of St. Louis is continuing its war against citizens’ right to express themselves. Having already told Jim Roos that he’s not permitted to use the side of his building to call for an end to eminent domain abuse, the city’s meddling bureaucrats have shown themselves to be equal-opportunity censors by citing a local business owner for his signs supporting Senator Obama. Roos, aided by the Institute for Justice, is currently pursuing a lawsuit in federal court to vindicate his constitutional right to share his message. I can only hope that the gentleman who commissioned the Obama sign will do the same.
There was a time when this sort of paternalism would never have been tolerated. Consider this passage from a 1902 Missouri Supreme Court case interpreting the state Constitution (emphasis in original LexisNexis case citation):
[T]he right of free speech, free writing or free publication, were not created by the Constitution which recognizes those rights as now existing, and only seeks their protection and perpetuation. That instrument simply forbids any law to be passed impairing the freedom of speech, and then gives a general and perpetual guaranty against any interference from any quarter whatever, with the freedom of every person “to say, write or publish whatever he will on any subject.” Language could not be broader, nor prohibition nor protection more amply comprehensive.
Wherever within our borders speech is uttered, writing done, or publication made, there stands the constitutional guaranty giving staunch assurance that each and every one of them shall be free. The Legislature can not pass a law which even impairs the freedom of speech; and as there are no exceptions contained in the rest of the quoted section, the language there used stands as an affirmative prescription against any exception being thereto made, as effectually as if words of negation or prohibition had expressly and in terms, been employed.
Alas, with its sign ordinance, the city is saying to its residents that the government’s desire to control which signs go where is more important than the right of individuals to express their views with each other. It is a shame. If the state and federal constitutions mean anything, they mean that free people should not have to seek the government’s permission before sharing their ideas about issues of public concern.