Governor Patrick's Dilemma

By Wendy Kaminer

        Governor Patrick’s decision to abort the removal of banners and flags from highway overpasses, following protests by people anxious to announce their support and concern for the troops, provides an interesting opportunity to test his and our commitment to free speech.  If he does not eventually order the signs removed, he will effectively declare that the overpasses are public forums on which anyone can post any message, however provocative or arguably offensive (so long as it isn’t legally obscene or otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment.)

         Imagine the possibilities.  The overpasses could become billboards for political campaigns: "Rudy Giuliani is a humorless thug," signs could announce.  (Mayor Giuliani, famously intolerant of free speech, once tried to prohibit New York Magazine from posting an ad on city buses that mocked his penchant for taking credit where none was due.)  People could proclaim their rights to own guns, smoke marijuana, obtain abortions, or teach evolution in the public schools, among other disputed activities.  Someone could erect a sign declaring that God is Dead and dare the Commonwealth to order it removed under our archaic blasphemy laws.  What fun we might have.  What a lesson in civil liberties and what a headache for the governor it would be.

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