In Stinging Rebuke, Newspaper Likens Haslam to 'Petty Balkan Dictator'



It has to rank as one of the harshest editorial condemnations of a Tennessee governor since Ray Blanton was setting free criminals for cash. The Chattanooga Times Free Press, not exactly a citadel of the liberal media, came hard after Gov. Bill Haslam today for shredding the free-speech rights of Occupy Nashville, calling it "an abuse of state police power akin to those of a petty Balkan dictator."

The newspaper makes its own demands: "Gov. Haslam owes the protesters an apology, and a commitment to observe their First Amendments. Nothing less than that is acceptable."

The governor's First Amendment affront is shameful. It was executed on the basis of an illegal, post-facto rule, which was concocted in secrecy on Oct. 27 — weeks after the protest had begun — without public notice, legislative review or approval by the state attorney general. Though the legislative plaza has traditionally been open to free and public use without constraint or prior approval, the illegal new rule requires prior approval, user fees, and a million-dollar liability insurance policy. It also limits protests to the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This whole episode smacks of an abuse of state police power akin to those of a petty Balkan dictator. There was no probable cause to arrest peaceful protesters. And there was no precedent for interrupting protesters' traditional and constitutional rights to use the Capitol plaza to make known their grievances about government tax policies.

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