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What do you have against the First Amendment? An open letter to the Wisconsin Assembly
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You had me arrested and removed from the gallery for wearing the cross.
You had me arrested and removed from the gallery for wearing the cross.
Credit:Lisa Wells

If you are a Wisconsin legislator who has the courage to actually look at the faces of people who are in pain, and are not afraid to see the suffering and frustration that this economic nightmare has brought to our country and to our state, then you may have noticed me in the Assembly gallery on Thursday, October 20.

I sat down there with about a dozen other citizens, many of whom I know were, like me, extremely interested to see how our legislature was going to attack the pervasive unemployment in this state, and what bold initiatives our elected representatives were prepared to put forth in order to get workers back on the job.

Joining us in the Assembly was your staff for the Sergeant-at-Arms, and approximately 12 "peace" officers, a mixture of Capitol Police and Wisconsin State Patrol.

Why did you post so many law enforcement officials in a democratic forum? While I peacefully awaited the introduction of the "jobs legislation," you provided the answer.

You do not agree with the First Amendment. And because you don't agree with the First Amendment, you decided to assault any citizens who asserted their rights under it.

Congratulations! You legislators hit a grand slam, touching all four bags as you demolished each and every right that our state capital's namesake, James Madison, included in the primary amendment to the U.S. Constitution: speech, assembly, press and religion.

You arrested, and removed from the gallery, a woman for pinning a 4" x 6" index card to her shirt, saying that a "sign" was not allowed. Her message: "Rules of the Gallery -- Arbitrary."

Yet you allowed another woman wearing a Velcro-attached armband, which is larger than 4" x 6", with the word "Solidarity" to remain. And the woman with the pin the size of a salad plate, showing a geographically split Wisconsin? She was okay, too.

Don't worry that you arbitrarily missed those two, because you more than made up for it.

You arrested a man for pinning the following message on his shirt, on an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper:

The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.

Any of you legislators see the constitutional irony in that arrest?

And you threatened to arrest a woman who displayed the same text, on the same size paper, on her shirt.

Why didn't you arrest her? She was spared because her "sign" was sewn on to her clothing.

And yet you were about to arrest her because she did not sew the bottom of the "sign" to her shirt. When she offered to remove her shirt, to maintain compliance with your unconstitutional "rules" of the gallery, your appointed pit bulls withdrew.

And then you came for me. What was my First Amendment sin in your eyes?

I wore a picture of a cross.

My 5"x10" sign, not much larger than a Green Bay Packers Super Bowl ticket, hung from my neck by a piece of yarn. The picture of the cross contained the following dangerous political messages: "LOVE" and "For God so loved the world," John 3:16.

You had me arrested and removed from the gallery for wearing the cross and that message.

Three citizens arrested and removed. None allowed to assemble or speak, and one denied the right to wear the religious icon of his choice.

And then you assaulted the rights of the press.

A journalist, whom you have credentialed, saw your abuse of citizens' rights and sped from the Assembly floor to the gallery to videotape the arrests; a right to video which has been affirmed this year by a U.S. Appellate Court. Look it up -- you've got plenty of lawyers.

You arrested him -- and did your State Patrol thugs tell you that they assaulted him as well? That they pushed him to the floor for asking for the arresting officer's badge number? And that they charged him with resisting arrest when they prevented him from standing up?

I understand that three brave legislators stood up to decry your body's assault on all of our freedoms -- and when I say all, I mean all Wisconsinites, not just those arrested yesterday. I thank Representatives Pocan, Kessler and Berceau for their speeches in defense of the Constitution.

Now, I wonder, what will be your actions -- you, the elected representatives, who have taken an oath to uphold the constitutions of Wisconsin and the United States?

Paul Schmid lives in Stoughton, and is writing a screenplay about the 2011 Wisconsin Capitol occupation.

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