Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Road To Hell, And All That

"Government is the toll of the moneyed powers. That concentration of power is happening because Congress is bought off. The system is rigged. And anyone who thinks we have some sort of a democratically elected government is reading the signs of the times."

-Jerry Brown

Do you think there is a misunderstanding about Freedom Of Speech in America? Do you think there is a distinct difference between "Freedom of Speech," and "Freedom of Expression." Are both meant to be protected under the constitution? I have my own thoughts about both terms, but I am interested in what you think. See, it has seemed to me, that since 9/11 we American's have embraced our civil liberties closer then ever before in recent history. Of course we do...we got quite a taste on 9/11 of what we could lose. Since then, it seems like some expressions of one's opinion hasn't always been met with equal embrace. Just ask anyone who opposed the war in Iraq, especially, but not limited to, the first few months after it began. Celebrities were booed off stage for exercising their rights as U.S. citizens and even now...nearly three years later, some students at Kent State University, indicated in a recent interview with ABC News, that they don't support the war, but feel uncomfortable with openly expressing that opinion for fear of being thought of as unpatriotic.

What has me thinking about this issue, is an article I read on AOL news, "Woman Faces Fine For Supporting Troops." Personally, I don't think that is a very accurate title for that article. If you read the story all the way through, you will find the woman, Stacy Kelley, of Westchase, Florida, is facing a fine for displaying a sign in her front yard, period. An action which goes against the contract she signed with her Homeowner's Association, which forbid the displaying of signs of any kind. When she signed that contract, she agreed to live up to it's rules and regulations, there was no provision for any exceptions. So, why should she be given special treatment because her sign is in support of the troops? What about that particular dynamic makes it ok for her to post a sign? Is it the patriot factor? Is it because contract be damned, she has a right to Freedom of Speech, even if she contractually waived that right?

In a poll conducted on AOL, 83% of responders said that the Homeowner's Association were not right to fine her for the infraction, even though she was aware that a fine was a possibility under her contract. In recent polls conducted by several news agencies, general support for the war in Iraq has dropped sharply for both republicans and democrats, but Stacy Kelley's sign doesn't say, Support The War," it says, "Support Our Troops." When you see a sign like that, do you think of the military as a separate entity from the war? And what does that phrase mean to you? "Support The Troops." Does it mean pray for them? Does it mean send them some much needed body armor? Does it mean speak out against the injustice of the war, if that is how you feel? Does it mean blindly following Donald Rumsfeld, when he says that the media has exaggerated the casualty statistics? Does it mean encourage our finest to pursue a career in the military? Does it mean sending a letter to the president, urging him to look into pardoning the men of Port Chicago, an instance of extreme injustice that took place during WWII, and was considered the worst homeland disaster of the era?

Perspective, being an individual thing, is a freedom that we are allowed to as Americans, but it seems like more so now, then at any point in the past that I can remember, it is being given as tool for those who can yell the loudest and with more intimidation. It's disturbing to me, that patriotism has been put into a box, and refined to the opinion that if you dare question what it means to be patriotic, then you are already wrong. Freedom of speech is not meant to be a tool to bully, it is not meant to be used as a weapon in a war of words. It is not meant solely for the majority. Freedom of Speech is a gift from men who fought and died so that we can support many different opinions and ideals. So, do I think this lady had the right to display that sign? No, contractually speaking she does not. Do I think, morally speaking, that she had the right to display that sign?

Yes & No. I fully support Freedom of Speech, I think displaying a sign in one's own yard is a wonderful way to demonstrate to the world your opinion. Bottom lining things in this case, she went against the rules of her Homeowners Association and therefore needs to either take down the sign, or agree to pay the fines or move. I guess what shocked me the most about her attitude was the following statement. "If I have to pay, I'll pay the fines. My husband says the same thing. If we have to pay them, we'll pay them. If they're gonna try to give us more than a thousand-dollar fine, there's enough people out there that are willing to help me out." Are you comfortable with that thought? The idea that it is ok to break the rules, if you can find the right group of people to say it's ok, and pay the way?

Here is an honest question. Knowing that there was a rule prohibiting the displaying of signs of any kind in one's yard, couldn't she have asked permission in advance? Couldn't she have gone to her neighbors and said something like, "let's petition the Homeowners Association, with a request to be allowed to place a sign our yards supporting our troops." They could have even asked that the Homeowner's Association designate the acceptable dimensions. Of course had they agreed, it would have opened the rights of those who oppose the war to display their opinions as well. Wouldn't that be the fair thing to do? And then other groups might want to be able to speak out, some of which we may not want to know live in our backyard. I will let your mind fill in the blanks with that thought. So tell me, is Stacy Kelley exercising her right to Freedom of Speech? Or is she exercising her right of "Freedom of Expression?" And are both to be equally protected under the constitution?

On a lighter note, there is still time to sign up for our next Round Robin Challenge, which is incidentally, "Signs." We will be playing the challenge this coming Wednesday, March 15th. You can post your entry anytime between the midnights of that day...and for up to one week later. If you would like to play, we would be happy to have you join us. Just pay a visit to the official Round Robin Journal and leave your name, the name of your journal, and the full URL of where you will be posting your entry. See you on the 15th!

NOTE: As Patrick pointed out the article title reads, "Woman Fined for Sign Supporting Troops." I believe the one I quoted in the text of my entry was correct, but I could have made a mistake. If so, I apologize for that. Also, I said I read this story on AOL News, but the article comes from ABC News and was featured on AOL news, it was not written by AOL News specifically.

"Road To Hell"
October 25th, 1992


DesLily said...

Personally.. if i knew there was the rule of no signs on the front lawn I would have taken that into consideration.. and if i still felt strongly enough that i wanted to say something.. I may well have put the sign on the roof of the house for ALL to see!! (unless otherwise stated.. there would be no fine..) and no it's not right to break a rule because others back you and would help you break that rule! Unfortunately, that sort of thing is more apt to push you to do it when you might be having second thoughts about breaking a rule.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

I think the answer on whether someone should flout the rules established by a Homeowner's Association, or for that matter any deed restrictions, depends on whether you agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. on whether it's your moral duty to obey an unethical law, and whether you consider the rule, law, or other restriction immoral or unethical. I've never been quite sure about the ethics of civil disobedience, but in this case, I'd be hard pressed to find anything "immoral" about this Homeowner's Association's rule. There's nothing inherently wrong with the purpose - not wanting the neighborhood to look junky with what amounts to commercial speech, which hasn't quite the same protections as individual speech. For example, I wouldn't put a billboard on my lawn, advertising Dial soap. Political speech in the form of a sign is hardly different.

On the other hand, we've owned or at least looked at houses with deed restrictions that are clearly illegal and immoral, but which have never been written out of the deed, such as the ethnicity of the people allowed to buy the property.

I'll have to think on this some more....


Patrick said...

Great post, Carly.

First, I note that the headline has changed to read:

"Woman Faces Fine for SIGN Supporting Troops."

That's certainly more accurate than the headline you quoted, and I suspect that there must have been enough complaints about the unfairness of it that someone stepped in to change it.

In reading the article, I lost all respect for her position when she suggested that if she faced a big fine, others would step in to help her. Why should they? If she's not willing to put her money where her sign is, why should she expect other people to?

As you point out, there are plenty of other ways to support the troops. She could have taken numerous other actions without riling up neighbors by breaking the neighborhood association's covenant.

I think that there is a big distinction between Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression. I think you have every right to speak your mind, but that there is a right way and a wrong way to express those views.

I don't fault her for encouraging people to support the troops, and I think it's entirely possible to support the troops without being in favor of the war they're fighting. I do fault her for breaking the rules to do so, then expecting others to pay for her mistake.

Paul said...

There is another question here regarding the homeowners' association that isn't answered in the article. Does the woman in question actually own the lawn upon which the sign is placed? Many newer communities are condomimium co-operatives in which all green space is considered 'common area' and is held co-operatively by all owners. I don't know if this woman's home falls into that description or not. If the home is not part of a condominium corporation, and the entire lot is 100% freely held by the individual homeowner, then the association rule may not have the force of law behind it.

One of the problems with news reports is they are editorialized. Only those details of the story that lead the reader to the conclusion intended by the news service are provided. So, who's side is this news report taking?