In the same edition of The New York Times that carried the story I commented on yesterday, reporter Jenna Russell informs readers that "In Massachusetts, [the] Right to Be Rude at Public Meetings Is Protected."
Pictured above is Louise Barron, who was threatened with removal from a meeting of the Southborough Select Board, after Barron claimed, in public, and apparently rather vociferously, that the town had violated the state's open meeting laws.
Let's stipulate that Barron was "rude." She accused a Select Board Member, for instance, of "being a Hitler," which is pretty much the same charge that a member of the community made about a former Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz, some years ago, and for which the community member was forcibly removed from a City Council meeting by the Santa Cruz City police. Rudeness is offputting, and can definitely be disruptive. Still, and this was the official holding of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a democracy, we don't have to be "polite" when we confront our public officials.
We have, in other words, "the right to be rude," and aren't you glad we do?
In the news, recently, has been a discussion of the rude treatment afforded to a member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, who was asked by a conservative student group to speak to law students at Stanford Law School. Justice Stuart Kyle Duncan was, essentially, shouted down by protestors - students at the law school - who were anything but polite. If you would like to see a nine-minute video of how the Justice was treated, click right here.
Stanford Law School, of course, is a private institution, not a "public" one, and the students involved in heckling Justice Duncan may face some kind of discipline by Stanford, since Constitutional guarantees are guarantees that apply with respect to governmental actions. I will say, as a comment on what happened at Stanford, that I don't think that I, personally, would have joined in heckling the Justice, as obnoxious as I think some of the Justice's views are. I doubt that I, personally, would have chosen to be so "impolite," and I am pretty sure that I would not have tried to prevent the Justice from making a speech he was explicitly invited to come to the law school to make.
That said, whatever I might have chosen to do, myself, in the context of the appearance of Justice Duncan at Stanford Law School, I do uphold our general "right to be rude." I think the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down a correct decision, in the case that came before them.
Let's hope that our own Supreme Court will do the same thing, when and if similar issues are raised at the federal level, and when and if someone claims that citizens are not allowed to be "rude" to public officials.
Oh, yes we are!
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