Thursday, July 27, 2006

Freeway speech

I read an article in yesterday's Star (yes, I still read the Star despite the abusive redesign. Dammit! They got me!) about a group of so-called Freeway Bloggers.

This group posts politically topical signs and banners on highway overpasses, fences and medians. The authors claim these actions are protected by their constitutional rights to free expression.

It's a convenient way to justify vandalism.

At best, these vandals are irresponsible since they encourage others to commit the same kind of vandalism to public property. And it is vandalism. They are marking up (if only temporarily) public property for their own purposes. They risk distracting drivers potentially causing traffic accidents.

What's more, they know that what they are doing is illegal and they encourage others to be dishonest in trying to copy them. They say so on their website (which I intentionally don't link to).

They claim that if an advertiser can put up a message on a privately owned billboard, then they should be able to put their message on publicly owned highway infrastructure. The key difference of course is that the advertiser has private property rights to put their message on the billboard.

If this group were buying space on a billboard for their message, or if they put their signs up in their own front yards, they would get no argument from me.

Underlying this tactic is a basic misunderstanding of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.
"When the founders of this nation said that everyone was entitled to freely express their political opinions, they didn't mean we could hammer up a sign out in the woods somewhere, they meant we could hammer it up right in the middle of the town square."
This is where they're wrong. We all have a right to say what we want (with certain exceptions).

But the constitution does not guarantee a right to be heard.

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  1. I think they're great. The distraction argument you make is nonsense - billboards, etc., are just as distracting, if not more so. I agree it is probably illegal, but so are those roadside memorials, and they don't bother me, either. Perhaps the left wing is more tolerant of these signs because we have superior powers of concentration . . .

    I admire their renegade spirit, and their wit.

  2. Well, I guess all criminals are renegades.

  3. But not all renegades are criminals; don't be misled because they're often treated as such.

    And it seems to me that this kind of sign falls well short of "malicious destruction of property."


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