As you probably know, Cindy Sheehan was arrested lat night just before Bush’s State of the Union speech. She blogged the full account here, but this is how it begins:
This afternoon at the People’s State of the Union Address in DC where I was joined by Congresspersons Lynn Woolsey and John Conyers, Ann Wright, Malik Rahim and John Cavanagh, Lynn brought me a ticket to the State of the Union Address. At that time, I was wearing the shirt that said: 2245 Dead. How many more?
After the PSOTU press conference, I was having second thoughts about going to the SOTU at the Capitol. I didn’t feel comfortable going. I knew George Bush would say things that would hurt me and anger me and I knew that I couldn’t disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn’t want to be disruptive out of respect for her. I, in fact, had given the ticket to John Bruhns who is in Iraq Veterans Against the War. However, Lynn’s office had already called the media and everyone knew I was going to be there so I sucked it up and went.
I got the ticket back from John, and I met one of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s staffers in the Longworth Congressional Office building and we went to the Capitol via the undergroud tunnel. I went through security once, then had to use the rest room and went through security again.
My ticket was in the 5th gallery, front row, fourth seat in. The person who in a few minutes was to arrest me, helped me to my seat.
I had just sat down and I was warm from climbing 3 flights of stairs back up from the bathroom so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out, when the same officer saw my shirt and yelled; "Protester." He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat and roughly (with my hands behind my back) shoved me up the stairs. I said something like "I’m going, do you have to be so rough?" By the way, his name is Mike Weight.
The officer ran with me to the elevators yelling at everyone to move out of the way. When we got to the elevators, he cuffed me and took me outside to await a squad car. On the way out, someone behind me said, "That’s Cindy Sheehan." At which point the officer who arrested me said: "Take these steps slowly." I said, "You didn’t care about being careful when you were dragging me up the other steps." He said, "That’s because you were protesting." Wow, I get hauled out of the People’s House because I was, "Protesting."
I was never told that I couldn’t wear that shirt into the Congress. I was never asked to take it off or zip my jacket back up. If I had been asked to do any of those things…I would have, and written about the suppression of my freedom of speech later. I was immediately, and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for "unlawful conduct."
Wearing a T-shirt is "unlawful conduct"? Of course not.
Glenn Greenwald does the legal research (even though — let’s be honest — common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of the First Amendment answers all questions):
The law is clear that Sheehan did nothing illegal and there was no legal basis whatsoever for removing and arresting her for wearing that t-shirt.
In Bynum v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd. (Dist. D.C. 1997) (.pdf), the District Court found the regulations applying 140 U.S.C. § 193 — the section of the U.S. code restricting activities inside the Capitol — to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Bynum involved a Reverend who was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police while leading a small group in prayer inside the Capitol. The Capitol Police issued that threat on the ground that the praying constituted a "demonstration."
That action was taken pursuant to the U.S. Code, in which Congress decreed as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons wilfully and knowingly . . . to parade, demonstrate or picket within any Capitol Building." 140 U.S.C. § 193(f)(b)(7).
As the Bynum court explained: "Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a ‘demonstration,’ the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets ‘demonstration activity,’" and that regulation specifically provides that it "does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message. Traffic Regulations for the Capitol Grounds, § 158" (emphasis added).
UPDATE: The Capitol Police apologize with this lame statement:
"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken, effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol. The policy and procedures were too vague," Gainer said. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."
Too vague? What part of "does not include merely wearing Tee Shirts" is so ambiguous?