Qualifying the First Amendment?

When East Providence taxpayer Tom Riley spoke during the Public Comment segment of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, members of the NEA and other unions from around the state boo’ed and shouted him down. (It should be noted that Mr. Riley would, nevertheless, have carried on with his remarks but the School Committee determined that the volume and ferocity of this reaction required the termination of the meeting.) Asked later about Mr. Riley’s rights of free speech, the East Providence teachers union asserted that a lack of accuracy on the part of the speaker was the reason for this coarse and abusive interruption.
Parenthetically, a list of the inaccuracies in Mr. Riley’s comments would be appreciated. Does someone, anyone dispute, for example, that the selection process for layoffs, if they occur, will be “last hired, first fired” as asserted by Mr. Riley?
The First Amendment to the American Constitution provides the legal definition of free speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So the teachers union proposes to amend, formally or informally, this definition to include accuracy of content?
If this is so, my concern is not for Mr. Riley. His comments Tuesday night would have easily passed such a new and more stringent standard. My concern would be for the speechifying ability of the teachers union. This would be endangered on two fronts as a result of the proposed new standard. Firstly, of course, the union has made statements which are erroneous to the point of absurdity. Secondly, however, this new standard would almost certain preclude what appears to be a communication staple of the East Providence teachers union: statements which include incomplete facts or facts presented out of context.
On that basis, other than pure statements of opinion and simple, unadorned requests, wouldn’t the East Providence teachers union only silence itself with its proposed modification to the definition of free speech?

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pitcher
pitcher
12 years ago

Also, if you listen to the tape closely, you hear some moronic teacher yelling “point of order!”, however the point of order was irrelevant. Point of order is for when a rule is being broken, such as not getting a second to a motion or skipping discussion:
Point of Order. This just makes the teachers’ actions that much more irritating as is Val Lawson’s defense. Why would it have been so hard, a day later when questioned for her to have said “We were wrong and should have been more respectful, and let the man speak.” I think “the people” would have been a little more forgiving of the actions if she’d simply done that.
Also as an aside, I find it interesting in the two different stories. Lawson says the man got shouted down because he was misspeaking and Pat Crowley said the only reason the crowd was so loud was because they were cheering for the next speaker in line. Clearly someone’s lying. Gee, I wonder who?

mikeinRI
12 years ago

I thought the same thing while listening to Ms. Lawson on Dan Yorke’s show. She struggled to find an excuse for the behavior of the teachers and their supporters. It was clear, even without seeing her face, that she didn’t believe what she was saying. Admitting the behavior was wrong, but chalking it up to the frustration and passion felt by the teachers, would have gone a long way. Instead she just sounded defensive, and foolish.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Let be state at the outset that I have no interest in defending the behavior of those who tried to shout down Mr. Riley. Before you go on, and especially before you respond to this comment, please reread the sentence above. However, I do have some interest in whether statements about the meaning of the First Amendment are accurate. Monique has accurately quoted the First Amendment. Note that it says that “Congress” may not abridge the freedom of speech. In the 1920s, the USSC extended that protection to actions by state governments. (Let me note that some famous conservatives, such as Robert Bork, have expressed disagreement with this move. I leave that issue alone). In any case, the First Amendment applies to actions by government, not private individuals or non-governmental organizations. You can say, if you like, that people at the meeting interfered with the speaker’s freedom of speech, but you cannot claim that they violated the First Amendment. Thus, as a legal matter, the hecklers could not have violateded Mr. Riley’s Constitutional rights. There is a concept in First Amendment law known as the “heckler’s veto”. The law here is a bit confused but, as a general principle, government agents may not shut down free speech because opponents of the speaker are loud and obnoxious. The duty of the government here is to quiet or remove the hecklers, and allow the speaker to speak. So I would say (not having been present for the event) that the duty of the school board was to protect the right of the speaker to speak and silence or remove those who were heckling. In short, if anyone here violated Mr. Riley’s First Amendment rights, it was the school board. Yours, or anyone else’s estimate of the “accuracy” or “truth” of Mr. Riley’s… Read more »

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

The simple reality is that the Union is not used not being able to control the discussion / debate & message.
For years, they have been successful in perpetuating the myth of low teacher pay, using simple-minded, hand-wringing “Do it for the Children” School Committees as pawns.
They were previously successful in mainting a complete lack of transparency into the nut-bag contracts that they were able to con out of incompetent and over-matched School Committees.
But alas the silent majority has awoken.
Worse for the EP Union, the Taxpayers elected a competant group of people to the School Committee, the likes of which Bob Walsh’s flock has never dealt with.
As they face the horror of dealing with competant adversaries as opposed to the usual handwringing (we can’t upset the Union) dip-s***s, the Union members can’t help but c**p themselves and carry on like little children suffering from diaper rash.
In terms of lack of accuracy on the facts, we are all still waiting for just one Union member to stand up and correct their messiah, Patrick Crowley, on the facts with respect to his assertion that Teacher pay has not kept pace with Inflation.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Thomas:
The first thing I’d note is that Monique used the First Amendment as a reference for the definition of “free speech,” not as a specific statute that the teachers violated.
Second, as much as I would have loved for School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri to instruct the law enforcement officers to begin removing hecklers (oh, even just the prospect gives me goosebumps), I don’t believe it accurately characterizes events to suggest that the school committee shut Mr. Riley down. Mr. Carcieri had stipulated (I believe) that the public comment segment of the agenda would continue for as long as it remained controlled and orderly.
Mr. Riley’s time was just about up (although, if you check the tape, the teachers who began howling that his five minutes were already up were incorrect), and he willingly stepped down when the chairman began proceedings to adjourn.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Tom S is correct.
Not withstanding his correct technical assessment, two important points need to be considered:
1) Had the SC been inclined to intercede on Mr. Riley’s behalf by having the hecklers removed, to whom would they have turned in order to execute such actions? Would it have been the Union Police Officer who was encouraging people on the way into the building to “be loud, my wife’s a teacher”?
2) Again, notwithstanding Tom’s technically correct point, the SC did the right thing. They won the politcal battle. Anybody that was marginally sympathetic to the Teachers left the meeting squarely on the side of the SC and the Taxpayers (as represented by poor Mr. Riley for whom the big bad Union would not afford an opportunity to speak).
The Union’s subsequent defense of their childish actions served only to solidify the SC’s support amongst the public.
The great unwashed are not concerned about the technical arguments to be made (such as Tom’s). Rather, they see it as described by Monique … the Union trampled a Taxpayer’s Constitutional rights, which was then defended by a Social Studies teacher no less!
Indeed, a brilliant victory for the SC.

bobc
bobc
12 years ago

On that basis, other than pure statements of opinion and simple, unadorned requests, wouldn’t the East Providence teachers union only silence itself with its proposed modification to the definition of free speech?
Oh, Monique, one can only dream!

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Justin,
1) If Monique chooses to use language carelessly, that’s her business. It’s my business to correct such usages.
2) Again, the job of the government is to keep the meeting orderly. The can’t shut down speakers just because the crowd is disorderly, unless they try to and can’t control the crowd. I didn’t hear anything about any effort to eject hecklers, only a shutting down of the meeting.
“The great unwashed are not concerned about the technical arguments to be made (such as Tom’s). Rather, they see it as described by Monique … the Union trampled a Taxpayer’s Constitutional rights,”
“Tehcnical” arguments” ? Such as what the First Amendment means?
Was I unclear? It is not legally possible for the union to trample constitutional rights. Only government can do that.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Monique says,” And Justin is correct that I did not and do not claim that the union violated anyone’s free speech rights at that meeting.”
Sorry. I must have been misled by the fact that you titled your post “Qualifying the First Amendment”, quoted the First Amendment, and said that “the teachers union proposes to amend, formally or informally, this definition to include accuracy of content”.
I did not say, as you now do, that the crowd did not violate Mr. RIley’s free speech rights. I only insisted that they did not violate his First Amendment rights. There is a difference.

pitcher
pitcher
12 years ago

“Pat Crowley said the only reason the crowd was so loud was because they were cheering for the next speaker in line”
Monique replied:
Absolutely not. They were expressing strong disapproval of Mr. Riley’s remarks.
========
I don’t know Monique, you’re disagreeing with what Pat Crowley said. We know that if he says something, it’s true. Like when he says that the people are on the side of the teachers in this issue. I gotta think it’s true because he keeps saying it over and over again in every interview I see him give and in every post he makes on the issue. And we know that someone in such a well-respected position would never, ever lie or ever try to mislead anyone, would he?

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Tom S.,
Don’t get your panties all in a knot.
I said you were correct.
I also said the great unwashed would “see”, that is view / perceive, the situation as the Union trampling a poor Taxpayer’s rights …regardless of the fact that, as you astutely pointed out, only the gov’t could have trampled Mr. Riley’s rights in the context being discussed.
Again, I note that you are “technically” correct, but that from a “perception” standpoint, the Union lost. And we all know that for some (e.g. the great unwashed), perception is reality.
Kudos to Mr. Riley for taking one for the team. And kudos to Ms. Lawson for the helpful assist in highlighting what losers the Unions are.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

George,
You said,
Tom S……Again, I note that you are “technically” correct, but that from a “perception” standpoint, the Union lost. And we all know that for some (e.g. the great unwashed), perception is reality.
You may have missed the part where I said:
Let be state at the outset that I have no interest in defending the behavior of those who tried to shout down Mr. Riley.
Before you go on, and especially before you respond to this comment, please reread the sentence above.
However, I do have some interest in whether statements about the meaning of the First Amendment are accurate.

The rest, I don’t really care about.

Will
12 years ago

Monique,
Thought you might like this “new” take from the Pawtucket Times:
[Murphy said] “The teachers’ union leaders consistently have been making unsound and inaccurate statements about these issues.”
Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, flatly denied Murphy’s assertions.
“The Taxpayers Association just makes things up with no basis in reality,” Crowley said.
Specifically, Crowley disputed the EPTA claim that public comment on the contract issue was closed Tuesday after union supporters heckled a resident who had begun to address the School Committee. To the contrary, he said the speaker in question supported the teachers.
Crowley also took issue with an allegation that School Committee members left under police escort, in fear of rowdy union cheerleaders.”
“To the contrary, he said the speaker in question supported the teachers”
Either the Times is lying about what Pat said, or Pat once again, lied.
“…School Committee members left under police escort”
They left under police escort. Is reality now up for debate, too?
A cold-weather war of words
http://www.pawtuckettimes.com/content/view/67080/27/

Phil
Phil
12 years ago

It sounds to me like the only abridging of the right to free speech was the extraordinary decision to end the meeting that early in the evening. The speaker who was to be next was a former school committee member and did not ( because of the school committee’s decision to end the public comment) get a chance to say anything. Which is worse.. getting a chance to speak with background noise or never having a chance to speak?
Also with RI coalition of millionaires and the Operation Clean (R) Government group begging for people to show up at that meeting why the pathetic turnout?

Mik
Mik
12 years ago

The unions are in existential panic because if Carcieri’s gambit works it’s “game over” for them. Any city can just wait out its latest contract and then impose terms-which will render the union redudnant and lead its members to question the wisdom of paying union dues.
Which, sadly, leads me to conclude that Carcieri’s gambit will be stopped either by judicial fiat or midnight legislation from Smith Hill.
Chapter 9 then becomes the endgame-with federal judges not tied to the union/crony Smith Hill kleptocracy.

Andrew
Editor
12 years ago

The problem is not only that the union was trying to “shout down” Mr. Riley. The problem was that the union demanded that the school committee deny him the right to speak on the contract situation in East Providence. School committee chairman Carcieri refused (quite properly) to accede to the demand. At that point union members began continuous shouting to prevent the speaker from being heard. At that point, Mr. Carcieri ended the meeting.
The crowd demanded the government restrict Mr. Riley’s free speech rights. Using the formal and proper definition of the term, they demanded that taxpayer remarks be censored. Fortunately, the East Providence School committee understands the First Amendment better than the union members there apparently do.

George Elbow
George Elbow
12 years ago

Tom S.,
I know you “don’t really care” about “the rest”.
But the “rest” is the real issue.
The “rest” being the out of control, double-standard, education/state destroying behaviour and demands of the Unions.
Your obvious abivilance towards this critical core issue is also reflected in your willingness to ignore the Spending problem we have in favor of spending time and effort on lower priority issues such as “Fair Funding Formulas” (fair being a subjective term).
At the point of bankruptcy due to out of control and unaddressed spending in support of nut-bag Union demands, will ANY funding formula really matter???

kathy
kathy
12 years ago

I agree those behaving badly should have been removed. If the local police, being fellow union members, refused to, then you call the state police. I think the school committee should have just kept the meeting at city hall in council chambers, if they wanted a somewhat orderly meeting. That way you would only have to deal with about one hundred people, rather than the 1000.
The person speaking after Tom Riley would have been the former chair of the school committee, Antone Gouveia. Had the union members been civil, perhaps the meeting could have continued. He was one of the members who extended the contract with union officials. Sure they saved very little money the first year of the extention, only to come back and bite us for the rest of the extention. I will agree with the city council, that contract was the worst in the city’s history. Also, Antone’s former wife is a teacher. Hmmmmmm!
In regards to Pat Crowley, he’s really pretty out there. He doesn’t worry about the real facts, only what he percieves the facts are in his little world. The unions have done themselves no favors aligning themselves with such a creep.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

Mr.Schmeling-I agree with you about the first amendment.The Bill of Rights specifically limits the government,not private individuals or businesses,or groups(provided they are not acting as “agents of the police”-an issue too complicated to address here)-a person’s civil rights can be violated by individuals,but that is different than the Bill of Rights.
I can’t believe the EP Police would have refused to remove hecklers,even if they are union members.They have a sworn duty and I am sure would carry it out. Maybe the school committee just didn’t want to push the issue beyond repair by having people ejected and possibly arrested.
It does sound as if Mr.Riley’s free speech rights were violated by the out of control teachers and their supporters.They won that little skirmish,but they may very well lose the war.Whatever Judge Pfeffer decides will be appealed by one side or the other.The RISC will make the deision that matters.this issue has nothing about it that would allow the Federal judiciary to intervene,so I think the question will be settled for the foreseeable future.
I am not a lawyer and have no idea about the validity of expired contracts-are they in effect or not?that is the basic question.
Maybe the teachers should look at their union and see if what they are doing is really in the best interests of the union membership.A big tax increase to meet wage demands might make the teachers anathema to the community,especially since other municipal employees have made concessions.I really don’t have a clue as to how this will turn out,but the whole state is watching very closely.

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

WOW You can sure beat a dead horse…If someone went into your job and took 6% of your salary to compensate for thier own delinquency the first chance you had to voice your opinion would be loud and clear. Step out of your hair splitting worlds and consider how you would react. Would you run scared or would you stand up and fight? What would you teach your children?

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