Thursday, July 19, 2007

GOP: Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee

The Naperville Sun examines how political speech is chilled in DuPage County:
It is hard to believe that the criminal charges against Sarah M. Hartfield, 45, of Naperville and Jeff Zurawski, 39, of Downers Grove are not at least to some extent politically inspired in nature.

As an article in Tuesday's Sun detailed, the two face charges connected with their display of a banner calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney on the Great Western Trail above Interstate 355.

While we agree that it is illegal to put something in view from a highway that can be a distraction to drivers, we would argue that distracting billboards and, indeed, traffic signs are placed legally all the time along highways and that these are no more or less distracting than the duo's illegal banner.

We also suspect that had the banner read "Support Bush and Cheney" instead of "Impeach Bush and Cheney - LIARS" the situation would have been viewed a little differently.

As it is, three weeks after the incident in which they were told to take down the banner, the two were initially charged with disorderly conduct. Then, later on, two more charges were added to that - reckless conduct and unauthorized display of a sign in viewing of a highway.

The original charge carries a three-month county jail sentence upon conviction, while the added charges have a penalty of up to a year's imprisonment.

Originally the two had been asked to take down the sign by an Illinois State Police trooper and were doing so when DuPage County sheriff's police showed up. After some alleged conversation with the officers about the war veteran status of one of the sheriff's police, Zurawski and Hartfield left not cited. Then, three weeks later they were charged with disorderly conduct, and, in court on Monday, the charges were increased.

Naperville attorney Shawn Collins has leaped into the fray, saying he thinks the two are being prosecuted for their political views, and has taken on the case pro bono.

Frankly, we think this should have ended when Zurawski and Hartfield folded their banner and went to leave at the request of the trooper.
And you even get to vote on on the matter:
THE ISSUE: Two area residents face a trio of charges for hanging a political protest banner above Interstate 355.

OUR VIEW: The charges are overkill and we suspect relate to the nature of the protest.

Do you think the charges against two people who hung an anti-war banner on I-355 are too severe?

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