Supremes uphold conviction in landmark free speech case

Yesterday,the Supreme Court made a key decision which even federal officals admit will have major implications for free speech across the country.

With
all eyes on the Alito confirmation non-aftermath, the Court hastily
refused to hear the appeal of South Carolina activist Brett Bursey, the
first and only person to be prosecuted under the statute governing “Threats to the President.”

Bursey’s
crime? Four years ago, when President Bush came to Columbia, SC to whip
up support for the Iraq war, Bursey — a leader of the South Carolina
Progressive Network — inserted himself into the pro-Bush crowd with a
sign saying “No more war for oil, don’t invade Iraq.”

For these
unthinkable sentiments, Bursey was commanded to retreat to an
Orwellian-named “free speech zone” or be charged with trespassing. As
Bursey relates, “I told the police that I was in a free speech zone
called the United States of America.”

The trespassing charges
were dismissed four months after the arrest, but the feds wouldn’t have
it. The Secret Service quickly moved to press the unprecedented
“Threats to President” charges, and, after being refused a jury trial,
Bursey was convicted and given a $500 fine.

Bursey could have
gone the easy route and paid the money. Instead he and public interest
lawyer Lewis Pitts appealed the decision, racking up thousands in legal
bills to protest what they perceived to be a legal sham with national
implications.

The charges and conviction made no sense from the start, as Bursey’s team said in a statement Facing South received yesterday:

The
statute requires that secure areas be clearly marked and entrance
restricted. Secret Service and State Law Enforcement Agents
acknowledged that there were other people in the area when Bursey was
arrested and trial testimony made it clear that the area was not
restricted according to the law.

“The courts allowed the Secret
Service to pick Mr. Bursey out of a crowd because he was opposed to the
President’s pending war with Iraq,” Pitts said. “This is a disturbing
precedent that will limit the First Amendment rights of all Americans.”

It’s
no exaggeration to say the Supreme Court’s decision to let the
conviction stand sets a dangerous precedent. A Secret Service official
in South Carolina, Neal Dolan, admitted as much in Charleston last year
when he declared that “If Bursey’s prosecution holds, we have another dozen cases” across the country.

To
pay his $500 fine, Bursey is asking 499 other citizens concerned about
free speech to bring a dollar and join him at federal court to protest
the decision (date to be announced).

You can make a donation to Free Speech Fund of the Progressive Network here or by calling 800-849-1803. You can find updates on the case here.

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