Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Freedom Of Speech Isn’t Free

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

The first amendment to the U. S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech was adopted law on December 15th 1791. It is the most important freedom we have in America for without it we would be unable to defend the other constitutional freedoms, such as our right to bear arms, due process and the right to a trial by jury.

Americans over the centuries have fought and died to preserve the rights that most of us take for granted - like the freedom of free speech. Just think how frightening it would be to have something important to say and not being allowed to say it without the threat of immediate arrest. Few of us will hopefully never have to face such a scenario. But I know of one man who did.

Public meetings take place by the thousands across America every day, at town councils, boards of education and planning commissions. These meetings are designed to conduct the people’s business in an open forum with time reserved for public presentation, concern, comment, adulation and even criticism.

Anyone who has ever served on a board or as an elected or appointed official knows that serving can be an exhilarating experience as well as perhaps a burdensome assignment. Much like writing a political column for a newspaper, one is put on the front line, but hoping for a more thoughtful discourse among your readers. For elected officials, voters’ response to their actions is measured immediately through such meetings and ultimately at the ballot box in the next election.

Back to the man. He was attending a planning commission meeting in Virginia. He listened to two very thoughtful presentations on a potential health and safety issue about the proposed building of homes near at least 210 probable coal mines. He was surprised that the commissioners didn’t seem to be paying very close attention to the speakers, and in fact in some cases was disrespectful. He and others in the audience found the presentations riveting. This was serious stuff but there appeared to be little concern from many of the commissioners.

The chairman asked if anyone else would like to speak and something inside of him said he really didn’t want to get involved, but certainly the commissioners should be challenged for their apparent indifference to what the first two speakers were saying.
This man knew he was moving to North Carolina in several weeks and this wasn’t really his problem anymore. Yet he could not allow himself to walk away from the perceived indifference on the part of the commissioners. How could he live with himself if he later learned that a life was lost simply because he didn’t want to be inconvenienced?

He got up from his seat and approached the microphone. He introduced himself, and asked why the commissioners appeared to be giving the two previous speakers mere lip service. He criticized one of the commissioners in particular and was reprimanded immediately. Although his remarks were brief he found he was spending his allotted time defending his right to speak and unable to cut to the heart of the issue.

He was told to sit down immediately or risk arrest. He couldn’t believe it. He could sit down and avoid what he knew would follow or he could stand up for his rights under the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution and finish his thoughts.

He was never afforded the opportunity. He was arrested, handcuffed, and charged with disorderly conduct. The charges eventually were dropped and a civil lawsuit followed alleging a breach of his constitutional rights.

Imagine the pain and embarrassment. No wonder every day many Americans cower when faced with standing up for what they think is right and choosing instead not to get involved. Justice isn’t always easy and it’s never free. It is often cost-prohibitive to seek judicial review for ultimate justice. Opposing the government or anyone with deep pockets is daunting and why most will shy away from ever becoming involved in the first place. I’m certain the founding fathers never envisioned a judicial system that discourages rather than encourages Due Process in certain cases by limiting access to only those who can afford to pursue it.

So was this man courageous or was he a fool? That will ultimately be for others to decide. I’d rather think he’s just an average guy who overcame his fear of being arrested and followed his instincts to defend his right to free speech.

Was it all worth it? Well since the man filed a federal lawsuit against the county for denying his right to free speech two significant changes at their public meetings have occurred. The county planning board removed their prohibition against personal criticism (personal attacks) and have implemented a time period at each meeting where citizens can speak about whatever they choose without prior approval, which was previously required.

I know the individual who two-and-one-half years later still finds himself in the midst of this costly judicial battle for the right to free speech. It is I. Would I do again? Yes. Many have already died to insure all Americans are afforded the right to free speech. My sacrifice pales in comparison.

Bob, this is the most important article that you have ever written. Here in Eastern North Carolina the tendency to never be controversial is a part of our culture. However with the growing abuse of power from one party rule here in North Carolina, it is time we stopped avoiding controversy and got in the battle. Thank you.

Updated 4/1/2008 - Here is a hot link to the video mentioned in the comment below.


At 8:46 AM , Blogger Squatter Swatter said...

Mr. Stephens, is this video the same incident that Mr. Steinburg writes of?

At 10:41 AM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

Yes. It shows elected officials suppressing the right to speak for those they disagree with. It is a perfect example of the difference between freedom and a police state. After all of the outrageous conduct performed in liberal "demonstrations" where police are attacked, it seems bizarre that Bob was arrested for simply tryting to speak .

At 8:55 PM , Blogger Chowan Defender said...

Mr. Steinburg,

Your article in the Chowan Herald today was a sight for sore eyes. I have been debating writing a LTTE on numerous occasions. But as you point out, there are repercussions these days for voicing out against the tyranny we are facing.

May I ask why it is that you requested specifically that you would like this to appear in the Chowan Herald? I am just curious.

I have noticed people downtown giving me funny looks lately, they know I am very outspoken about this corruption we are now facing.

Anyways, thank you for your article. It was a welcomed blessing. Hope to see future articles soon.

Peace to You and Yours.

At 6:23 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Exactly did this man disrespect the law? I would love to know that. He simply asked why he should sit down..
At that time, there were time limits that a person could speak, as long as it was reasonable.

Being told to sit down and shut up in a public forum is cowardly and spineless on the Chairpersons part.

There is way too much of this happening around this Country. 80 year old men being strapped to wheelchairs and throw out of a mall because they are wearing Anti-war shirts? Christians arrested outside the Whitehouse for praying on the sidewalk? People tasered for not signing a ticket? People killed with tasers for simple misdemeanor crimes?

It ridiculous. I am just glad I have not seen any of this around here, except for the deputy walking down the sidewalk with a damn assault rifle.

This Country has militarized it's police. Swat used to be the only unit that was called in for fugitives and high profile crimes. Now it's deputies?

The police and other officials in this Country are fighting the wrong people, the citizens. And it's quite apparent that you, and many others in this Country have forgotten or not read the US Constitution. Or do you see the Constitution as G. W. Bush see it, "Just a worthless G*d damn Piece of Paper"????.. Our Christian leader's exact words.

In defense of what I say above, I am not referring to any officer in Chowan that I know of. Police here seem very respectable. And many realize the same thing I do, and I am glad of that.

Peace to you and yours.

At 10:39 AM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

To Yes man, It is interesting that you are the first person on this thread to hurl non-specific invective. What exactly was the "verbal hand grenade" that Bob hypothetically threw? How did he disrespect a law officer? He agreed to go with the officer. He simply asked that he not be forced as if he was a criminal. Your claim he "resisted arrest" proves my point. What was he "under arrest" for? Criticism of a public official does not justify using police to shut down the criticism. What about the numerous Democrats who traditionally throw pies and call speakers Nazi and Fascist (ironically names that only apply to liberals since those were both liberal-socialist doctrines) in order to shut down debate? I rarely see anything but cheering from those on the left for those.

I am seeking votes from those who believe in free enterprise and individual freedom. I have no interest in getting votes from those in the Democrat Party who support, or otherwise are a part of the growing effort to turn America into a socialist police state. If that is your goal, I don't WANT your vote.


At 6:54 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Mr. Stevens,

Will your name be on the ballot this coming election?

Send me a sign and I will gladly post it on my front lawn. A large 8'x4' sign would be sufficient.

Peace to you and yours.

At 7:41 AM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

I'm running for U.S. Congress. I have no primary opponent, so my name will be on the general election ballot in November. For anyone who would like to sign up to help, my campaign web site is
Thanks for your support.

At 8:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the fundamental principle of the Constitution that we have the freedom of speech. No government entity should ever repress speech as long as it is done in a peaceful manner, without vulgarity, and without inciting riot or hatred. I cannot imagine Mr. Steinburg ever violating any rules of conduct in a public forum.
What he did at this meeting showed his determination and character as well as his concern for the public. We need more people like Rob Steinburg in our public forums.
If you have never read his column, A Conservative's Point of View, you owe it to yourself to read this man's work. He brings new light and common sense to the political climate in North Carolina.

At 8:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Yes Man,
There is nothing spinless and cowardly about suing when your rights have been violated. The spineless and cowardly thing to do is to walk away without fighting.
It takes more courage to stand up for what you believe than it does to walk away. It is because of people like Mr. Steinburg that we have the open and orderly discussions. He is a breath of fresh air in the stale liberal press of today.

At 3:49 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Show me anywhere that Mr. Steinburg has said, "I am suing this County for personal profit.." Can you point me to that specific quote please?

If I were Mr. Steinburg I would use the money to campaign for the jerk's seat that told him to sit down.

That is all.

At 5:36 PM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

Yes man,
I asked you some questions and you never answered them. Why? Now you are using another poster's name sarcastically, at least that is how using it twice came off to me. You don't appear to me to be either a conservative or capable of civil dialog. Answer the questions I asked, and do it civily, or your blogs will be deleted. On the issue this thread is about, Bob Steinburg has pledged to put a major portion of any money settlement in to a trust to defend other people who are treated as he was treated. Since he has publicly stated that, how can you be ignorant of that fact? If not ignorant of that fact, you are being dishonest in your posting. Or maybe you are just ignorant in general? Bob defending others justifies his continuing his lawsuit and your criticism is childish. People like you who blog anonymously are usually not civil because you think hiding behind an anonymous name allows you to be sarcastic, attack others with no class, and ignore people like you have ignored my question. The only spineless and cowardly person is you. This is my blog. Want to see how fast I can purge it of your sarcasm and insults? No problem. You are gone.

At 7:06 AM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

To Yes man,
To say that you have backed your insults with facts is simply asinine. If you bother to check you will see that a great number of people have posted opposing views on my blog. You are only the second poster I have ever expelled from my blog for lack of civility. You did not even respond to my questions, much less defend your insults with logic. Since it is my blog, common courtesy would have suggested to at least acknowledge my questions, even if you had not answers. This is my blog and I do not allow anonymous postings because of the problems such people usually cause. You have hid your identity and you constantly hurl insults at the other posters. Now you equate my requirment that you be civil or you have to find somewhere else to post as reminding you of Josef Goebel? You cannot be serious? I am sorry but that is absolutely the least intelligent comment I have ever heard. You already had me laughing over an earlier posting. This one is a crackup. Man, what do you use for brains? You are rude, obnoxious, insulting and (since you post anonymously) gutless. Until you get enough guts to identify yourself and enough class to stop your cheap insults, I will (as I promised) delete all your posts. Have a nice day.

At 10:37 AM , Blogger Squatter Swatter said...

Mr. Stephens, I have to come off of the sidelines here. Everyone on your blog with the exception of you is anonymous. How is Chowan Defender, Richard, John, myself and others any different? That is the beauty of blogs. It seems as though you are singling out and removing YES MAN because of an opposing point of view. Isn’t this exactly what the commissioners did to Steinburg?

To keep the discussion alive, I'll acknowledge and answer your questions.

1. The whole length video of Mr. Steinburg can be seen and the transcript can be read. I haven't seen the whole video, but have heard from a few who have. I have read the transcript though. If you've seen it you'll notice Steinburg belittling Commissioners for their perceived apathetic attitude towards a subject that was not even on the agenda for that evening's meeting. Yes, the commissioners were not handling themselves very professional either, but Steinburg comes across as arrogant and belligerent. What’s wrong with voicing your concerns with some tact? I can’t help to think of those guys I saw on the local news a few years ago screaming at the bertie co. school commissioners. I forgot what the issue was, but I remember watching the video in awe of those citizens screaming and cussing at the officials – even following them out to their cars in a threatening manner. These guys had every right to voice their concerns over whatever, but they made fools out of themselves by the manner in which they chose to communicate those concerns. Maybe that is the whole issue with Steinburg. It’s not the message but maybe the messenger.

2. Steinburg yelled at an officer and jerked his arms away from him as he tried to escort him out of the building. I'll agree, this is disrespecting an officer of the law. Refusing to obey an officer is criminal and the officer has just cause in arresting a citizen who resists or disobeys his or her directives in a public area. The police didn't have a dog in the fight. No need to scream at them and resist them. I’ve been in a situation before with an officer acting in a nonprofessional manner. I still didn’t resist her or scream at her. I said, “Yes Mam, No Mam” and settled the matter with no incident. I then called her supervisor and reported her behavior. I received the desired results.

Now, it appears that you are dancing around YES Man's point about the money and steinburg personally profiting from this lawsuit. So what if a significant portion is going to a trust or others to use - not all of it is going to the trust. And what is a “significant portion” anyway? I would like to know that myself. We're talking about millions here. Is Steinburg or is he not going to personally keep some of that money if he were to win? That's fine to do so - just admit it. If I'm going to sue someone it’s going in my pocket too, but I'm not going to mislead others into thinking I'm not getting anything out of it. Steinburg did come across in his article as only suing for the people. He never mentioned the 3 million. Why? It certainly is a major piece of the story.

Mr. Stephens, I've enjoyed reading both arguments on this blog. It’s a shame you've deleted the "other side." In fact, I always enjoy reading what you put on your sights and enjoy most of your personal thoughts that follow; however, you've gone a little far insulting and removing those with opposing thoughts on this article. You've never come across as intellectually arrogant before. Isn’t that what Steinburg is fighting against – those who sensor and try to remove others who try to speak openly in opposition?

At 10:08 PM , Blogger Dean Stephens said...

To squatter swatter,
I don't usually insult people unless they insult me or others first. Then I usually join the flame war enthusiastically. After many years on the web, I am very good at flame wars. [grin] However this blog is not a neutral site. This is a libertarian-conservative blog and I want to carry on civil dialogs here. I do not want this to be like the many sites where flame wars are encouraged. If you don't insult people, or use sarcasm, I will not ban someone from my site. However when someone posts on my blog, and ignore my questions after they have insulted me (as yes man did), AND WILL NOT STOP AFTER BEING ASKED, I will exercise the perogative to ban them. However I cannot see that it is the same as the Commissioners did since I am not government. You can criticize me and there is absolutely no way I can have you arrested for it. I am not sure why you can't see the difference but it certainly seems a key difference to me. As far as anonymity, I only get exercised about it when someone abuses it. If you are not insulting others and making attacks with no way to get in touch privately to request you follow my simple rules, then it becomes an issue. Start insulting people on my blog and YOUR anonimity will become an issue. As far as the tone of Bob's communication versus the communication in Bertie County, Bob never cursed or screamed, which you know went on in Bertie County. I was there for the Bertie County demonstrations. You may remember I was one of the people they were screaming about as I definitely was on the other side of the issues. I cannot agree that the two things are similar at all. I think to say Bob "screamed" or "yelled" is an exageration. And anyway, I think that the officer should not have taken instructions to close down discussion and remove someone anyway. I have long felt it an abuse of power to arrest someone for resisting arrest when the only thing they did wrong was verbal. Bob committed no other crime. So what was he being arrested for except exercising his freedom of speech. Just because you don't like what he says does not make it a crime. If they can do that it is not a right. It was just as much an abuse of power for the officer as it was for the commissioner. I will be glad to review the tapes with you, both Richmond and Bertie County. Bob clearly had a hostile tone. However to be fair you cannot compare the two situations. Though Bob has not agreed to give all the money to the defense of others and will keep some for his trouble, I believe that his continuing the lawsuit is reasonable. As the Tobacco and Asbestos lawsuits have shown, in America's courts there is no other way to get justice but to sue for money. Back to deleting the poster. I am sorry you feel it is "intellectually arrogant" to do so. I will not have people engage in insults or flame wars on my blog. He was warned. Anyone can disagree with me as long as they talk about the issues. Start characterizing the adequacy of anyone's position with insults and adjectives and you are violating my rules. I cannot arrest you, but I can enfore the rules of my blog. I don't see that as arrogant. Are you sure you are right?

At 6:05 PM , Blogger Not-So-Impartial Observer said...

It's a shame in this country no one can say anything even remotely controversial or thought-provoking anymore without someone flying off the handle. Freedom of speech? Yea, right. If only!

At 9:28 PM , Blogger Don Blarney said...


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