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Florida judge bars people from protesting outside the courtroom if they DISAGREE with his decisions!

Free speech ban

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(NaturalNews) Earlier this month, a Florida judge found himself at the center of a controversy when he decided to issue a ban on demonstrations near the courthouse where he presides, when such protests involve the criticism of judges.

From the order issued by Judge Mark Mahon:

Demonstrations or dissemination of materials that degrade or call into question the integrity of the Court or any of its judges (e.g., claiming the Courts, Court personnel or judges are "corrupt," biased, dishonest, partial, or prejudiced), thereby tending to influence individuals appearing before the Courts, including jurors, witnesses, and litigants, shall be prohibited on the Duval County Courthouse grounds....

Apparently, Judge Mahon objected so strongly to some of the criticism aimed at him that he felt the need to ignore First Amendment principles regarding free speech. He even threatened protesters with criminal contempt of court charges for participating in such demonstrations.

The judge's ban went on to compare protesting in front of a court to the hackneyed free speech limitation cliche of shouting the word "fire" in a theater, an argument that is so inapplicable in this case as to be completely ludicrous:

Shouting out on the Courthouse grounds that the Court and judges are "corrupt" during business hours while people are entering the Courthouse is entirely inappropriate and disruptive and is analogous to falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater....

It appears that the judge's ban was in response to a protest involving a group called Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC), which was involved in demonstrations regarding a case presided over by Judge Mahon.

The case involved a PINAC reporter who was arrested for participating in a demonstration against the TSA. Other PINAC members demonstrated in support of the photographer, leading to the judge's reaction and subsequent ban.

Ban leads to lawsuit

PINAC responded by filing a lawsuit against Judge Mahon for violating their First Amendment rights and asked for a temporary restraining order against the judge's ban.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Mahon "scaled back" the provisions of the ban, allowing protesters to question the integrity of the court, but keeping the ban against photographing "secure areas and security features" intact.

However, PINAC vowed to fight the revised ban as well, and after the judge met with members of various media organizations, he decided to rescind the order completely. Apparently, he now has a better grasp of First Amendment principles that apply to his courthouse sidewalks and to every other public place in America.

Freedom of speech is one of our most precious rights as Americans. It's one of the basic principles that set this nation apart, yet many people seem to think that it should not be applied equally and fairly across the political and social spectrum.

That's why you can actually feel proud (even when some hate group is involved) every time you see a demonstration occurring in your city or on the national news. Even if it's neo-Nazis, Black Panthers, the KKK or anyone else you don't agree with, they have the same rights as you do to voice their opinions in public.

We must be extremely careful when evaluating and establishing the limits of free speech. It's not about picking and choosing who should have the right, it's about protecting everyone's right -- no matter how personally abhorrent their views may be to you.

Judges and courts are not immune -- in fact, being able to protest against the government or the judicial system is precisely the type of free speech that most deserves protection. Having the liberty to question these institutions is central to the concept that our founders fought so hard to create for our society.




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