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Friday, December 02, 2005

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White House event staffers unlawfully removed two Denver residents from a town hall discussion with President Bush because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, the ACLU charged in a federal lawsuit filed recently.

"The government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions," said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, the lead counsel in this case. "The President should be willing to be in the same room with people who might disagree with him, especially at a public, taxpayer-funded town hall."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Leslie Weise and Alex Young, who gained national attention after being removed from a March 21 event with President Bush. The presidential visit was open to the public and advertised as a town hall "conversation" on Social Security reform. Weise and Young, who had obtained tickets for the event from the office of Representative Bob Beauprez and had caused no disruption at the town hall, were removed from the event solely because of their perceived political views.

At the event, Weise and Young approached the security metal detectors. Weise was asked to show her identification, while Young was allowed in. The staff at the event then told her that she had to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, who wore a dark suit, earpiece and lapel pin arrived. He told Weise that if she had any ill intentions she would be arrested. Weise assured him that she did not and was allowed to proceed to her seat, where Young was waiting.

Casper consulted with other White House event staffers who advised him of a White House policy prohibiting people from attending this public event if they held a viewpoint other than that of the President. Casper then ran back to Weise and Young and forced them to leave.

After the incident, Secret Service confirmed to Weise and Young that they were removed because a White House event staffer noticed that Weise had a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker on her car. Eight of the nine members of the Colorado congressional delegation, including Democrats and Republicans, have since publicly condemned what happened to Weise and Young, and have called for answers from the White House.

Similar incidents have occurred at presidential visits across the country. According to news reports, individuals considered to have critical viewpoints were removed or excluded from Social Security town hall meetings in Arizona, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

See the lawsuit here.

(from ACLU newsletter)