Watson and McCain deserve each other. And Rhode Island’s disgraceful law is a warning sign of what can happen when politicians decide there’s such a thing as too much freedom of speech.

ED DAVIS
His Boston Police Department has continued to disrespect the rights of protesters

The Boston Police Department has proved dispiritingly obtuse when it comes to the First Amendment’s “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Muzzle goes to Boston police commissioner Ed Davis. He’s still rather new to the job, having joined the department in late 2006. But he’s now been around long enough to know that his men and women need a refresher course in respecting protesters’ constitutional rights.

This past Veterans Day, for instance, 18 members of an anti-war group called Veterans for Peace — some of them with gags in their mouths — were charged with interfering with a program at City Hall Plaza honoring those who’d served in the military. The gags symbolized their exclusion from a parade organized by the American Legion (they marched anyway, at the end of the procession). Thus were they officially silenced twice on the same day. Fortunately, when they were brought before a judge in Boston Municipal Court, the charges were dismissed.

Charges against a performance artist named Milan Kohout came to a similar end. Kohout — forced out of communist Czechoslovakia more than two decades earlier for his pro-democracy activism — was arrested this past November and accused of being an “unlicensed transient vendor” after he laid out hangman’s nooses on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America’s Boston headquarters, in the Financial District. The purpose of Kohout’s protest may have been a little difficult to discern. It was pretty obvious, though, that he wasn’t selling souvenirs. Fortunately, a Boston Municipal Court judge agreed, and dropped the case.

And those were by no means the blue crew’s only offenses against the First Amendment. Here is yet another small example. On April 30, a Haverhill man named Alan Nystedt was arrested while protesting in front of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, in downtown Boston. Little is known about the case except what was reported on the Boston police blog, bpdnews.com. What we do know is that Nystedt was charged with disturbing the peace and occupying a city sidewalk without a permit when he refused an order to move along. There was no allegation of violent or abusive behavior.

Another day, another person attempting to exercise his right to free speech, another arrest. Mr. Commissioner, you have a problem in your department.

MERITA HOPKINS
This judge's prior-restraint order was overturned — but too late

If the First Amendment means anything, it means there are almost no circumstances under which the government can stop the media from reporting what they wish. Unless, that is, Superior Court judge Merita Hopkins is presiding.

This past October, the Boston firefighters union went to court to try to stop WHDH-TV (Channel 7) from revealing the contents of an autopsy report it had obtained on two firefighters who had been killed in a restaurant fire. The report found that one man may have been drunk at the time of his death, and that the other had cocaine in his system.

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