Against my better judgment earlier today, I got caught up in a “discussion” about the noon-time singers at the Capitol. One of the people with whom I was “discussing” this insisted that rights are not compatible with permits.
The “discussion” devolved from there.
I use quotation marks around the word discussion because it was typical of the discourse that surrounds controversial groups or events like the so-called Solidarity Singers. In other words, instead of listening, digesting, and replying, it’s more like stating your opinion, and then when there’s a chance to speak again, stating the same opinion more loudly.
Another person said singing in the capitol building is as much a right as singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. (I’m pretty sure I read that “argument” somewhere else this week.) Still another wondered why, with all the really top-notch civil rights lawyers in Madison, they aren’t more involved in filing suits against the Capitol Police or the Department of Administration, or SOMEBODY, to stop the arrests.
I’ll tell you why I think our city’s many highly-talented First Amendment lawyers aren’t filing suits: because they know it’s fruitless. I’m guessing that it would put them in a position to argue in court that nobody needs a permit for anything, as regards the First Amendment, and I’m further guessing that the judge would, at that point, ask them to show evidence that they possess a valid law license - something I don't have, so I'm just guessing here.
I mentioned in the “discussion” that the Wisconsin Constitution – and the Constitution of the United States (as written by God and delivered to the Continental Congress on smoking tablets by Jesus) – means what the courts decide they mean. And the court has spoken, and it has said a group of more than 20 needs a permit to hold the noontime “concert” in the rotunda.
This assertion on my part engendered a response of “but what the court says is only an opinion, and we’re talking about a natural right that is our birthright and cannot be taken away by any court”.
Suffice it to say the person who gave that response is not likely to be admitted to an accredited law school in the United States.
So I tried a bit of my well-worn “America” speech. One of the many great things about this country is that we make up our own laws. We don’t believe, as they do in many nations, that our laws were handed down by Mohammed, or Moses, or Jesus, or whatever religious figure you care to name. Our laws ARE subject to interpretation (there’s that pesky “court opinion” idea again) and, if enough people don’t like our laws, we change them.
When we think our laws are bad or wrong, we often break them, sometimes noisily and sometimes quite publicly. Like the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (prohibition). After a while, we said “this is ridiculous” and then passed the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th. (Oh, and by the way, no real surprise – Wisconsin was the second state to ratify the amendment repealing prohibition, just a couple weeks after Michigan ratified it in April of 1933.)
Sometimes it takes a while for us to change laws we don’t like, because we may have liked the law at first, and then later decided “not so much”. Like the changes to laws regarding who can get married. Or who can use marijuana as a medicine. Or a 55-mile-an-hour national speed limit.
Who knows? Perhaps the paramilitary dragoons who now control the Capitol Police will finally get on the nerves of enough ‘sconnies, and we’ll say “WAIT A MINUTE!!!” and force the Governor to re-think things. It’s going to take a big noise, though, because the governor is running for President, and when he makes it official, he doesn’t want protesters in the rotunda when the national media come to town.
If they cuff and drag off more singing grandmas, change might happen more quickly. But I’ll bet a nickel that the idea of getting a permit to protest in “the people’s house” is one that’s going to continue to sit well with the majority of ‘sconnies.
(The photo at the top of this post is Copyright Madison Newspapers Inc.)