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 for a redress of grievances.
—The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
“[D]ue to policy changes freedom of religion and speech are now prohibited anywhere on the public park grounds without a permit, and only then if in the designated ‘free speech zone.’” —Michael Marcavage, describing park policy as explained to him over the telephone by the chief of park rangers at the Liberty Bell Center
Michael Marcavage has been arrested again, this time for exercising his free speech rights in the vicinity of … the Liberty Bell.
Marcavage and his attorney, Scott Shields, went to court January 9, but the prosecutor wasn’t ready to try the case and was granted a continuance.
Marcavage was arrested October 6 by rangers at Independence National Historical Park for refusing to confine his street preaching to a government-designated “free speech zone” where, he said, no one would have been able to hear him. It was not the first time he’d preached against abortion to tourists at the Liberty Bell, nor the first time park rangers asked him to stop; but it was the first time he was arrested for it.
“They only arrested him,” said Shields, “not any of the people screaming stuff about breast cancer research at the same time in the same place. It seems the rangers are only worried about speech about God—because, they said, ‘Some people don’t want to hear it.’ They can’t possibly justify this.”
“Speech zones, when challenged, are generally struck down by the courts,” said Greg West of the Alliance Defense Fund. “That’s because they’re objectively and selectively applied, usually against Christians.
“ADF has tried a lot of these cases, and we have an excellent record. Pretty much every time we go into court to challenge free speech zones, we win. It’s a pretty clear case that Michael’s constitutional rights were violated.”
A History of Arrests
“Of all the places in the United States—the site of the Liberty Bell!” Marcavage said. “We’ve encountered free speech zones at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and even at the Super Bowl. And now at the Liberty Bell.”
Marcavage was arrested for preaching at the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006, but a court this month summarily dismissed the charges. “This court declares that defendants [the arresting officers] violated plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh. “Plaintiffs are granted nominal damages. The only issues remaining for trial are compensatory and punitive damages and the form of injunctive relief, if any.”
While waiting to see whether the Detroit Police will have to pay damages, Marcavage is now embroiled with the National Park Service.
“We don’t see prosecutors turning down these cases,” he said. “Despite knowing that they’ll probably lose, they keep on pushing it.”
In 2004 Marcavage and several other Christians were arrested, in Philadelphia, for preaching against sodomy at a homosexual street fair sponsored by the city. This incident, which became notorious as “the case of the Philadelphia Eleven,” was dismissed in February 2005 by Judge Pamela Dembe (see http://www.fullquivermission.com/PhillyVictory.php).
“Here in Philadelphia,” Marcavage said, “we’re fighting a very serious spiritual battle to affirm our constitutional rights. Just looking at the complaint, United States of America v. Michael Marcavage, just seeing the words, ‘the United States versus you’ … Well, it’s very sobering. But this kind of thing is not surprising in a nation that approves the killing of 4,000 children a day [by abortion].”
Why a “Free Speech Zone”?
“The unifying fact in the First Amendment is man’s immunity in his faith and beliefs: the freedom to express his beliefs in religious worship, in speech, press, assembly, and petition.” —R. J. Rushdoony
It is difficult to believe that the National Park Service has preserved a healthy respect for the First Amendment.
Troubled by “very scanty media coverage” of his struggle for free speech, Marcavage’s Repent America organization has made video footage of his latest arrest available on its website, www.repentamerica.com (see the press release “Liberty on Trial Again in Philadelphia” for a link to the video). Notice the breast cancer marchers (in pink T-shirts) in the background: not confining their activities to any “free speech zone” and not being accosted by the rangers.
“They had no issue with those breast cancer protestors,” Marcavage said. “We had the issue because we were speaking against abortion.”
Marcavage brought some 30 members of his organization with him to the Liberty Bell museum, but he was the only one arrested. Now he’s trying to understand how the Park Service can find so many exceptions to the First Amendment.
“I’m not sure how they rationalize this ‘speech zone’ policy, when it’s so blatantly unconstitutional,” he said. “They say, ‘In the name of national security, we have a right to restrict people’s speech in time, space, and manner’—for instance, at an embassy where they’ve had a bombing or a bombing attempt. But even then, the courts have always limited it to cases where there was an overwhelming, compelling government interest. I don’t see that here.
“Sometimes the police in a city, in the name of peace, order, and tranquility, have the discretion to restrict free speech—say, if there’s going to be a potential riot.
“Our ministry was out to discuss the abortion holocaust, in terms of God’s Word; and we’ve been all but shut down by the National Park Service.”
When and if the case comes to trial, Marcavage and his attorney both say they expect an easy victory. “But to have to sit in court, and be accused of a crime, is emotionally draining,” Marcavage said. “But God has a purpose in this.”
Replacing One Faith with Another
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), called the situation “pretty horrifying.” FIRE, with offices in Philadelphia, has won many cases challenging the establishment of “speech zones” and “speech codes” on college campuses nationwide.
“The courts have consistently held that speech zones cannot be allowed in public areas, including parks,” Lukianoff said. “Philadelphia is full of parks, including some of the most famous places in American History. That they should be doing this at the Liberty Bell makes for a very heavy irony.”
Why, when these attempts to restrict free speech so consistently fail in court after court, does the government continue to pursue them?
Marcavage is charged with “violating the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Section 1.6” and so on. Someone in the government took the trouble to write down this “speech zone” policy, and it was printed at taxpayers’ expense in a book of regulations. Do they expect times to change and the courts to start upholding these restrictions?
R. J. Rushdoony discerned in all this an attempt to replace one religion with another. “[I]t is now more clear than ever that Christianity is being disestablished and humanism established as the religion of the land,” he writes. “Since all law represents the establishment of a moral and religious order, the disestablishment of one means that another faith is being established.”
The incident at the Liberty Bell is only one battle in a wider war against free speech—more specifically, Christian speech. “Hate speech” and “anti-bullying” laws in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and elsewhere; federal “hate crime” bills brought before Congress every year; recurring proposals to resurrect the “Fairness Doctrine” (to shut down conservative media, most notably talk radio); police harassing Christians when they speak in public, but allowing free rein to all who agitate for the open celebration of sodomy, or even practice it in public, as in the infamous “Folsom Street Fair” in San Francisco; the incessant campaign in the news and entertainment media to mock and demonize Christians and their beliefs—there is more of this than we can keep track of and more added to it every day. The new Park Service regulations are only one outrage among many.
They are all intended for the same purpose: to replace Christianity with secularism as the religion of the nation.
Of one thing we can be certain. In the new secular society being planned and pushed by humanists of all stripes—lawyers, judges, politicians, bureaucrats, academics, movie stars, journalists, scientists, and teachers—there will be no place for free speech as we’ve always known it. In the name of “diversity,” they insist on uniformity of thought.
 R. J. Rushdoony, “Religious Liberty” Roots of Reconstruction, 1980 position paper, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 52.
 Rushdoony, Sovereignty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2007), 468.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.