Last Tuesday was a sad day for Manatee County citizens and the First Amendment. The bullying of two Manatee County citizens in a recent BOCC meeting by Chairman Larry Bustle is unacceptable. His gestapo style attempt to ban two citizens for their public comments protected by the Constitution is unconscionable, especially by a decorated Air Force pilot who took an oath to uphold the Constitution not only in the military but in his civil responsibility as chairman of the board of county commissioners.
Unfortunately, many situations arise in which citizens are silenced because of the content of their speech or because they have disagreed previously with a government official. This raises the specter of censorship. Government officials may not silence speech because it criticizes them.
Chairman Bustle overstepped his authority and jurisdiction in this very serious matter of the First Amendment. In addition the rest of the board members had an obligation under the Roberts rules of order to sanction Chairman Bustle; they did not. Even our county attorney explained to Chairman Bustle that perhaps he went too far in trying to expel and ban citizens.
The laws are clear; they may not even silence someone because they consider him a gadfly or a troublemaker. The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech. If you can't take the heat, then get out of the kitchen, or better yet, step down.
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” — Harry Truman
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