“Simply arresting people because they don’t have a permit is a way of shutting down speech. And instead I think we ought to look for ways to open up speech, to create more speech…in a healthy democracy more speech helps us. It helps us air out those issues that we think are important. It helps us air grievances. That’s the role of discourse in a democracy. That’s how speech can help us achieve the kinds of policies and make the kinds of decisions that we want.”- Robert Asen
How can we better understand the dilemma and tension over public access to the Capitol and what are the implications for our politics and our government system? On Wednesday August 8th, host Tim Hansel tried to answer this question with local first amendment lawyer Jeff Scott Olson and Robert Asen, Professor of Communication Arts and resident fellow for the Institute for Research in the Humanities.
According to the first amendment, United States citizens have the right to assemble. As it stands right now in the Madison Capitol, however, if a group has more than 20 people, a permit is required to assemble. Over the course of the show Hansel, Olson, and Asen discussed the history of the laws that talk about requiring permits and assembling at the Capitol, but they also addressed a very important question – whether or not these laws are suppose to limit participation in our society. It’s clear that you have to have a permit to participate, but is that law just? Olson spoke to listeners about the limitations that are necessary to protect others from our first amendment rights, but what are those limitations? The idea of permitting gives the state more power. This lets the state control who gets to speak and who does not. Asen then talked about public speech in our society and how requiring a permit has the potential to shape the way we go about public demonstration and assemblies at the Capitol.