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Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, there was a townhall meeting not too far from here in Reston, Virginia. Over 3,000 people were inside and about that many outside who could not get into the school. Now this townhall event was held at South Lakes High School, and one of the security officers there, a Wesley Cheeks, Jr., did not like one of the signs that the protesters were carrying and holding up. The sign apparently was not to the officer's political liking.
So the security officer demanded that out of the thousands of signs at the event, the one he didn't like was going to come down, and he ordered the person to take it down because it was obviously critical of the administration. Note, Mr. Speaker, there was nothing illegal about the sign.
This officer told the man with the sign to put his sign away or he would be arrested. Yes, arrested for freedom of speech and the right to protest. The protester said, This used to be America. Officer Weeks said in response, Well, it isn't any more, okay.
Well, Mr. Speaker, it's not "okay." Not by a long shot. This is still America, the land of the free--the land where we can disagree with government, whether government likes it or not--the land paid for in blood by bold men of noble character and heart and noble action, who understood that free speech undergirds liberty and freedom. They understood that the right to speak the truth to authoritarian power is granted by the Almighty to those bold enough to stand and claim that right. No king, no government, no dictator, and no high school security officer has the right to abuse their authority and suppress freedom of speech.
One of the founding principles of this Nation is freedom of speech. It is so fundamentally important that our Founding Fathers put it first in our Constitution's Bill of Rights, made it the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, because it is the most important. Without the First Amendment, the rest are meaningless.
The First Amendment simply says, Congress--that's us, folks--shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.
It is the tendency of all governments to encroach upon the rights of people in this Nation, and other nations. And while many Americans are going about their daily business of work, taking their kids to school, to football practice, to Boy Scouts, grocery shopping, and going to dinner, mowing the grass, and living their lives, don't underestimate that these people are paying attention to what government is doing to them.
Freedom of speech is crucial for folks to get the attention of fellow Americans when the size of government no longer fits the Constitution. Freedom of speech is sacrosanct, and not just for those who agree with government, but it is a holy right, especially for those who disagree with government oppression.
It is the right of a free people to speak truth when the government is wrong. It is the right of the people to gather and stand in the face of their elected officials and speak what they see--tyranny of a government gone amok.
It is the right of a self-governing people to come together in cities around the Nation to speak out and to hold the government accountab