Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freedom of Speech

While in Bar Harbor this weekend, we could not help but notice a small, vocal group of demonstrators staffing a prominent display set up on the Main Street sidewalk and advocating the impeachment of President Obama. In addition to signage, there were large portraits of the President with a Hitler style mustache. Thousands of summer tourists were strolling the streets, and two cruise ships were in port. A brief inquiry indicated that the group apparently did have a permit from the Town of Bar Harbor.

Observing the demonstrators for a short time, we saw many people cross the street to avoid passing directly in front of the display and also to avoid any verbal contact with the activists. That likely made shop owners on at least one side of Main Street rather unhappy. We also saw demonstrators gesturing to, and verbally interacting with, people who were forced by heavy traffic to drive up or down Main Street very slowly. In fairness, there was the occasional person who intentionally walked over to the demonstrators voicing support, signing their petition, or donating money.

In our view, this incident raises some difficult questions that require a lot of careful thought. Of course, our first priority must be to preserve the First Amendment right of everyone to speak their mind, no matter how offensive that speech might be to some willing, or even unwilling, listeners. Still, we also are aware that millions of people visit Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor every year to both marvel at the natural beauty of Acadia National Park, and to enjoy for a brief few days the small-town atmosphere of a coastal Maine village which they like to think is far removed from the frustrating extremism and debilitating negativism that have become so much a hallmark of our political system.

As other interest groups see or hear about demonstrations like the one this weekend, it is likely that they too will want to take advantage of Bar Harbor's high visibility and heavy summer traffic. We believe that the Bar Harbor Town Council, with input from the town's attorneys, local citizens, and the Chamber of Commerce, should carefully review any pertinent ordinances to be sure that the rights and interests of all parties are adequately protected.

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