On April 11, 2022 the Plano City Council had a discussion on it’s Comments of Public Interest Policy. This was placed on the agenda by Council-members Tu and Grady due to a few people’s unorthodox comments and presentations. The first of these presentations, a few weeks before, went viral and was even featured on Fox News. While some residents are laughing at the man’s unique way he redressed the government of his grievances, as well as his copycats, some council-members’ response to this is to limit our first amendment rights.
Before we go over the discussion the city council had to limit our rights, let’s go over a few important facts. The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights lists five freedoms the government cannot stop people from doing.
Now, notice what the First Amendment does not list; it doesn't list any limitations or exceptions to those five rights other than to peacefully assemble. These five rights are not just in the Bill of Rights, they are also in each states’ Constitution.
The right to speak and petition our government for a redress of grievances was not something our framers invented. One of the earliest documents to list these two rights is the Magna Carta.
Following the Magna Carta, American colonists used their local assemblies as surrogates for the King to make complaints. Also, in 1641, the Massachusetts Colony created the very first code of laws in New England called, Body of Liberties. It recognized the right to address Massachusetts government bodies.
Moving on in history, in 1689 the English Declaration of Rights proclaimed,
“it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning is illegal.”
Moving forward in time to 1776, “[a] group of petitioners sought relief from England for a series of intolerable acts…and numerous other limits on self-government. Denied redress, the petitioners became revolutionaries, [and some went on to become leaders of a new nation]”
Our founders and framers knew history, and had first hand experiences dealing with a King that tried to limit and even take away their liberties. So, when it came to writing the first amendment, Madison purposefully only put the limitation of peaceful assembly in it. He knew that a free republic and self-government depends upon the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and complaints without the threat of limits, retaliation, harm or punishments from governments. However, this is not something that a few people on Plano City Council know or seem to understand. Even those members that hold law degrees lack this understanding.
Our first example of a person who lacks the understanding of our first amendment and its history, came from the person who wanted to talk about limiting the public's right to redress in the first place, Council-member and lawyer Maria Tu. She started her comments by saying, “I find it, that when we allow public comments it’s a great exercise of our constructional rights.” So far she is off to a bad start. Notice she used the words, “when we allow”. In others words, she is under the assumption that the council gives permission for people to address Plano’s government body; Plano City Council is not where the people get the authority to address their elected officials. Mrs. Tu continues to show us what she truly believes in her next statement.“ However, I think Plano has been known for many years as a city of inclusiveness, rather than exclusiveness, and when comments are meant to harm the city’s image as well as some of our residents, that’s where we need to draw the line and we need to actually do something about it.” No Mrs. Tu, you don’t need to and can’t do anything about it. You are not a queen, and the council is not a tribunal or group of tyrannical Nobles, that can trample on the people’s God given constitutional right to speak and petition their government. Even Justice Scalia, in talking about a case dealing with the first amendment, said, “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-breaded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king.”
The only Constitutional way to combat any speech you don’t like is with speech you do like. What Council-member Tu should be doing is adhering to the oath she swore to when she took office, that being to defend the Constitution. That means doing what Oscar Wilde said, “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” Trying to enact any limits on speech and petition, reveals, as James Madison believed, that Council-member Tu is an opponent of limited self government.
Moving on to our next council-member who thinks he is a king, Rick Grady. He agrees with Tu, and also suggests Comments be moved to a different part of the meeting. I wonder where he would like to move them to? Perhaps the end of the meeting so, when the council has a meeting that goes late, those that want to speak have to wait until midnight? That is just another way to limit speech. Nice try Mr. Grady, but the people are not going to fall for that old trick. Councilman Grady also stated that Comments need to be relevant to the city. Now, who is supposed to make that determination? What overlord will decided what is relevant to the city? Mayor Muns may think something is relevant, but Councilman Williams or a resident may disagree. For example, Councilman Williams wants to talk about Ukraine at a future meeting. Now at first glance one might think that the problems of Ukraine are not relevant to the city of Plano, and the city can’t do anything to help. However, if we dive deeper we could see that there are residents in Plano that are affected by the war. If Mr. Williams is prevented from bringing it up, we won’t know if there is anything the city can do to help these families.
Speaking of Councilman Williams, a self proclaimed First Amendment supporter, he is also for limiting content to anything the Plano city government can actually do. Again, though, who will be the judge? Councilman Williams went on to further say, “Any restrictions beyond that might be a declaration of, game on.” So far that has been the smartest thing anyone on the council has said.
Next, Councilman Anthony Riccirdelli, the other lawyer on the council, spoke. He too thought it made logical sense to limit comments to city business. Where in the Constitution he got that from he did not say. In case you were wondering, that is not in the Constitution.
Councilwomen Julie Homer and Prince agreed with their fellow council-members for the most part. Mrs. Homer did mention that she is accessible by email, so if the lords and ladies infringe on your rights, you can email them.
The only council member to say anything truly profound and constitutional was Rick Smith:
“I don’t think we should allow the city and this body to be high-jacked by the juvenile actions of someone. … If we react, change the process that we’ve done for years because of something like this, what’s the next step? … I just think we let it play its course. This is not representative of us as a body or as a city. It’s purely when someone comes and puts an act on, it’s on them. It [is] nothing - it’s not a reflection on our city, on the professionalism of our city, or the good things that we do.” Smith also made the very important point that by reacting they are showing that these antics are affecting the council. “I would say let them come. They want to come waste their time, hey I’m here. I’ll give them the three minutes and I’ll listen to them. ”Bravo Councilman Smith! After hearing Smith’s wise remarks, Councilman Williams stated he wanted to try the idea. Councilman Smith is clearly an elected official who knows his place and who believes in the first amendment. He is also someone who knows that by reacting you only feed the trolls. So, the best course of action is to ignore them. What you don’t do is punish the majority for the acts of a minority. As Jay Cost said in his article titled, James Madison’s Lesson on Free Speech
“Give us the right to think what we like and say what we please. And if we the people are to govern ourselves, we must have these rights, even if they are misused by a minority. As we confront those who use their right to free speech to abuse the norms of decency and civility, we should calmly recall Jefferson’s admonition from his first inaugural address. ‘If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it’.”
This is Plano’s Political Pit bull Signing Off
Here are some more quotes on the subject of the First Amendment.