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BURRISS: Right to free speech comes with limits

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It’s not often Murfreesboro and Nashville get to be in the middle of a national controversy, but that’s exactly what’s happening with the Occupy movement.

Both cities are facing a conflict between the protesters’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, versus the two cities’ very real concerns about safety, security and sanitation.

Under current law, everyone has the right to demonstrate, picket, march and protest.

At the same time, communities can impose what are called “reasonable time, place and manner” restraints.

Plus, any restrictions that are imposed have to be the minimal necessary in order to both allow free speech and protect the public from unreasonable inconvenience.

Unfortunately, the members of the Occupy movement have hurt their cause by their own activities that are unrelated to free speech.

Vandalism, public nudity, urinating on passers-by, and leaving trash and garbage strewn over the protest sites all play into the hands of officials who want to get rid of the protesters.

Communities have a valid claim that these kinds of activities cause a public nuisance, lead to disease and crime, and cause an unnecessary burden on public welfare.

And these are the very things that will trump a free speech claim, particularly since these are all under the control of those exercising their free speech rights.

Unless there is a significant potential for harm, organizers are generally allowed to control the activities of their members.

In fact, the only way the government can control speech, including so-called “speech plus” is if there is a significant danger to the public.

And the Occupy leaders have apparently not exercised these appropriate control.

Free speech is under attack from many fronts, and those who want to use the First Amendment to promote their own activities need to be at the forefront of making sure they do all they can to protect those rights.
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Tags: 
Freedom of Speech, Larry Burriss, Media, Occupy Murfreesboro, Voices
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Members Opinions:
February 19, 2012 at 12:13pm
Welcome to the world Larry. After the smoke has cleared and everyone has figured out that the "occupiers" never were organized, never had an agenda other than to do anything that would gain attention to that fact here comes (Lay it on the line Larry) spouting the obvious. Where were you when (they) wanted to defend their First Amendment Rights without a clear understanding of what they are? You as a Journalism teacher should have made this commentry then, in person, rather than write a "me too" after the show is over.
May 03, 2013 at 10:55pm
that is by far the weirdest thing i have ever heard people doing to voice their first amendment. and they apparently did it for no reason since the government can control that type of "free expression". people now a days call themselves speaking their mind and what not when doing things like this, but in all reality, they are just harming the environment and the people in that community. and doing in doing so, it makes a bad name for you. there are so many other ways to express yourself... choose one!!
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