Government bullies and the First Amendment

When you take cash from the government at any level — even though they confiscated it from you and your friends and family initially — you should expect to be giving up SOME freedom. But two different cases here in North Carolina showcase government entities possibly overstepping their bounds.

First, we have the case of the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department in Montgomery County.  Here’s Fox News:

A fire department in North Carolina stands to lose at least $19,000 because of its refusal to remove a Confederate flag from its property. 

The Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department has been flying the Confederate flag in front of the fire station for years. Firefighters say it represents history and heritage, not racism. 

“The flag is not hurting a thing,” Lee Hudson, with the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department, told WFMY. “We are not a racist department. We are not in any way. Members or the department as a whole.”

Montgomery County Commissioners, however, disagree.

“The Board of Commissioners stated their position, that they did think the flag was inappropriate and requested for the fire department to take it down,” Montgomery County Manager Matthew Woodard told WFMY.

The Board of Commissioners sent firefighters a letter last week saying that they will withhold funding for the department until it takes down the flag. 

The Charlotte Observer reports the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department gets $19,000 a year from Montgomery County, plus $400,000 annually for fire trucks. The department was organized as a non-profit corporation in 1983.

Firefighters said they do not plan on removing the Confederate flag any time soon.

“We would love to work with the county and for them to support us,” said Hudson. “But, we’re not going to move on the issue of taking down the flag.”

The flag has been flying “for years.” The fire department has been getting funding from the county “for years” — possibly since 1983.  If the flag was OK last year, the year before, and the year before, WHY is it a problem NOW?

Are these folks at the volunteer fire department actually doing their job in a professional, competent manner?  Is there an ordinance banning the display of flags in this community?  Is the Confederate flag specifically banned?

Even better —  Charlotte is getting sued for a sign ordinance that allegedly picks and chooses who is in violation based on the content of said signs. A pro-life group, led by the reality TV stars known as The Benham Brothers, is suing over the city’s efforts to kill their anti-abortion protests. Here’s a little from their complaint:

[…] .1.  In his opinion for the Court in Police Department of Chicago v.
Mosley, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote that “above all else, the First
Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression
because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” 408 U.S.
92, 95 (1972).
2. Contrary to this venerable principle of constitutional law
articulated by Justice Marshall in Mosley, the Defendants in this case—
specifically, the City of Charlotte, its Mayor, and its employees—have used
the City Code to violate the First Amendment by restricting Plaintiffs’ use of
signs, and therefore their speech, because they object to the content of those

3. Thus, despite their desire to exercise their constitutional rights
and speak freely, Plaintiffs have encountered unconstitutional censorship,
intimidation, and harassment from Defendants.

[…] 6. The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that
public fora have immemorially been held in trust for public use for the
purpose of expressing beliefs, communicating thoughts between citizens, and
discussing public questions. The Supreme Court has likewise emphasized
that public land is the natural and proper place for the dissemination of
information and opinion and that a person cannot have his right to free
speech in appropriate places abridged simply because that right to speak can
be exercised in some other place or because a private entity wants to silence
his speech. Public property in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, is no
7. Defendants, through their enforcement of City Code § 10-212,
prohibit speakers from resting their signs on the ground while they are
assembled outside of abortion facilities and thereby restrict Plaintiffs’ right to  

free speech on significant portions of land. This restriction does not apply to
many other types of signs whose content is different from those used by
Plaintiffs. Defendants thus unconstitutionally restrict Plaintiffs’ rights
because of the pro-life messages their signs convey.
8. City Code § 10-212 has further been interpreted and enforced by
Defendants so as to arbitrarily forbid and silence speech with which they or
others disagree.[…] 

On one hand, you can argue that — if you take public money — you are submitting yourselves to the whims of the bureaucracy which handed it to you.  Kind of like a whore’s relationship to a pimp or a junkies’ relationship to a dealer.

On the other hand, to sacrifice the quality of emergency response to a rural community — like what is happening in Montgomery County — over a political disagreement is appalling, to say the least.  You’re talking about denying fire service to residents of unincorporated areas.  The county contracted with a private organization to provide services to its residents — services that not just anyone can provide. 

And in Charlotte, the idea of shutting down protests because city leaders don’t like the subject matter of the protest is also appalling.  I can see shutting down a protest if they are blocking street traffic or impeding the use of a public sidewalk.  But that’s not what we’re talking about here, apparently.

Basing the implementation of public policy on how the people in office at the time view a certain political issue — a flag, or abortion, let’s say — is a disservice to the people they are supposed to be serving.  It is JUST WRONG.