Recently, at the behest of congressional aides, I was arrested in the halls of Congress for participating in a peaceful impeachment sit-in. Two days later, [two] Asheville residents were arrested by a deputy sheriff because they chose to use the American flag (in a manner protected by the Supreme Court) to demonstrate distress about this country’s condition. Although discouraging, it isn’t too surprising that over-zealous bureaucrats and law-enforcement officers ignored the Constitution and overreacted. However, another recent incident in which free speech was trampled on was shocking and disturbing.
Malaprop’s—known for its progressive attitude—hosted a barbeque-cookbook author who was promoting his book. During the event, Terri and Stewart David peacefully stood on the public sidewalk in front of the store and distributed leaflets containing information about the healthy, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly choice of a vegetarian diet. In response, Malaprop’s banned the Davids from the store “indefinitely.”
Malaprop’s management claims that the Davids were confrontational and made the author uncomfortable. I have known the Davids for over 10 years and have participated in many events with them. I know them to be professional, reasonable and dedicated activists. I’ve never seen them react in a hostile or aggressive manner, even when harassed. Therefore, I have every reason to believe them when they say that they didn’t act in a confrontational manner and that, in fact, the author, his entourage, and a Malaprop’s representative were the ones who acted aggressively. However, the bottom line is that the Davids conducted their leafleting on public property and had every right to do so.
The right to exercise free speech—even when it makes us uncomfortable—is fundamental and necessary for a strong democratic society. We cannot afford to ignore this steady erosion of our civil liberties.
— Leslie Armstrong