Monday, December 19, 2011

Pensacola City Priest threatened with arrest over Free Speech!

So, a priest walks into a city council meeting — stop me if you’ve heard this one — and is nearly hauled away by the police for speaking calmly to his elected officials.

Hilarious, right?

Father Nathan Monk wasn’t laughing at last night’s City Council meeting. During the Boyd Forum, an open comment period named in honor of the late civic activist LeRoy Boyd, Father Monk chided the council members — and Council President Sam Hall in particular — for their actions at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. At that meeting, several citizens had spoken in opposition to the proposed anti-homeless ordinances, and in doing so made unflattering comparisons to historical figures (one person mentioned Heinrich Himmler’s “Final Solution“) and questioned the Christian charity of any council member who would support the ordinances. Council members DeWeese and Johnson took offense at the accusations, and Hall had asked Police Chief Chip Simmons to remove several speakers he deemed “out of order.”

At last night’s meeting, Monk told the council they had no right to dictate the content of their speech, and suggested that they instead examine any actions by the city that would prompt such comparisons.

“As Americans, we have the right to redress our government without fear of being arrested,” he said. “Whether or not they’re connecting dots from Hitler to George Wallace to Barney … you should be asking, ‘well what are we doing that’s allowing people to connect those dots?’ It was a sick and gross abuse of power.”

Council President Hall interrupted Monk at that point. “Your time is up, sit down,” he said.

“No, I have a minute and 12 seconds left,” Monk said, looking at the timer at the speaker’s lectern.

“I’m ruling you out of order,” Hall said.

When Monk refused to leave, noting that he had not violated any rules of conduct, Hall asked Police Chief Simmons and two other uniformed police officers in attendance to remove him. He refused to budge until his allotted time was up, after which he was escorted from council chambers by the officers.

During the standoff, council members Sherri Myers and John Jerralds stood up and left their seats in protest.

“I am leaving this chamber as you are in violation of the people’s First Amendment right,” Myers said. “I will be outside if you want to want to address your grievances to your government.”

Returning to her seat later in the meeting, she strongly criticized the “chilling effect” such censorship can have on the public right to speech.