Take a moment to consider just 18 words enshrined in the First Amendment where it is written, “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Although simple words, our Founders fought a war of independence, and put their lives, property and futures at risk to guarantee all Americans the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government to redress their grievances.
Now, take a moment to consider the words of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proclamation entitled “Statement of Emergency,” a proclamation which was crafted in the dead of night, a proclamation intended to withdraw the First Amendment rights of Kentuckians to “peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Although our Founding Fathers were able to guarantee the right to in 18 words, it took Gov. Bevin 9,226 words to withdraw and stomp on those rights.
Take a moment to consider a few words written by Gov. Matthew Bevin, Secretary William Landrum and Commissioner Robert Burnside in the preamble to the “Statement of Emergency,” words apparently intended as justification for what is clearly an unwarranted interference with the constitutional rights of Kentuckians:
This emergency administrative regulation is being promulgated in order to provide clear guidance regarding public use of state-owned facilities and grounds. The administrative regulation aims to protect the health, safety, and welfare of visiting members of the public, as well as staff at state-owned facilities and grounds. An emergency administrative regulation is necessary, pending replacement by an ordinary administrative regulation, to provide clear and comprehensive guidelines in regard to items and activities that pose a threat to public health, safety, and welfare at state-owned facilities and grounds.
Imagine if you will, that on the eve of the legislative session, these three men had the audacity to craft an administrative regulation, a regulation which would likely not pass constitutional scrutiny in the courts, a regulation thinly disguised as a regulation intended to protect the health, safety, and welfare of visiting member of the public, a regulation which is in fact only intended to create obstacles for any Kentuckian who might disagree with the Kentucky legislature.
No matter the words chosen to justify the interference with the right of Kentuckians to peacefully assemble in our state capitol building and to petition the legislature to redress their grievances, the intention of the drafters of this regulation is clear, the regulation is nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to erase the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.
Most troubling about this so-called safety regulation is the deafening silence of many members of the Kentucky legislature, members who should be outraged that three men have chosen to interfere with the constitutional rights of Kentuckians. Even more troubling is that the Governor has assembled an army of law enforcement to enforce this emergency regulation, an army of law enforcement who patrol the halls of the capitol, law enforcement whose only purpose is to intimidate Kentuckians who might dare to visit the capitol during the legislative session.
If we can learn anything from the history of this great nation, Kentuckians should take a moment to consider the words of Alexander Hamilton, a great American Statesman and Founding Father of the United States, words which ring as true today as they did when he said, “It’s not tyranny we desire; it’s a just, limited, federal government.” While Hamilton’s words were directed at the federal government, these words should be equally applied to all state and local governments, or any government which might choose to interfere with the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.
As a final thought, it might also be wise to consider the words of Thomas Jefferson when he said, “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” This administrative regulation is nothing short of a form of tyranny intended to withdraw the voice of Kentuckians to peacefully assemble and to petition their government, the Kentucky legislature.
So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place where unlike the capitol building, a place where all Kentuckians can peacefully assemble, shout loudly and petition their government, something which is no longer authorized in the halls or chambers of the capitol.
Oh and, by the way, on my imaginary mountaintop, Kentuckians will be free to assemble and shout loudly without fear of arrest for exercising those freedoms guaranteed by our Founding Fathers in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky.
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