Thursday, January 14, 2016

Why can't we practice our 1st Amendment Free Speech rights at the post office?

Until the Patriot Act was passed, we used to be able to gather signatures for ballot measures and propositions in front of the post office.  I call that the citizen's 1st Amendment right to petition the government for redress of our grievances.  Others call it 1st Amendment Free Speech rights.  In 2012, when we were gathering signatures for Prop 37, the GMO labeling effort, and Measure F, the anti-corporate personhood rights effort, the Ukiah postmaster called the police to drive the petitioners away.  I asked Steve, one of the clerks there, who replied that citizens can't petition in front of the Post Office because it is private property. 

I have heard that the USPS had privatized some of their services, but I had thought that the Post Office was federal property.  In a democracy, the government is formed by the People to serve the People, and therefore, all Federal property belongs to all American citizens. 

I had also heard that the Patriot Act had a provision that prohibits ordinary citizens from getting within a certain distance of any diplomat.  Thomas Jefferson is probably turning over in his grave about that. But it shouldn't pertain to the Post Office since there are no diplomats inside. 

Even if the Post Office was private property, the Supreme Court 1980 Pruneyard Decision ruled that 1st Amendment rights are higher than private property in places that can be considered equivalent to the town square, like a modern shopping center.  I would pose that the Post Office is also equivalent to a town square.  So the fact that American citizens can't practice our 1st Amendment rights in our democratic nation in front of the federal post office perplexes and alarms me. 

Can anyone tell me why the Post Office is now off limits to citizens to practice democracy?  Will we have to get arrested gathering signatures in front of the Post Office and take the case to the Supreme Court? 

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