“Reason”-able, Anonymous, Free Speech.


Once in awhile, we get some flack from people who say that we should not write using pseudonyms or allow anonymous comments. There are generally two reasons we allow such postings. The first is that we don’t care too much who says what as we would rather deal with the ideas that are presented rather than who said them. People who demand to know who said something want to engage in the lame and ridiculous act of making ad hominem attacks. Instead of dealing with what is presented, people want to “attack the man” to somehow try to attempt discredit the writer.

Our second reason is a respectable concern as to what those who are being criticized will do, especially when those people work for the government.

For the past few weeks, the internet has been abuzz with talk of a subpoena issued to to uncover the names, emails and IP’s of those who made comments on the site. The reason the buzz was just “talk” was because it was rumored that not only had the government sought to stifle free and protected speech, they sought to make it illegal to disclose their actions.

The incident started with an article on concerning the sentencing of Ross Ulbricht.

On May 31, Nick Gillespie published a post at’s Hit & Run blog discussing Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht’s “haunting sentencing letter” to District Court Judge Katherine Forrest, and the judge’s harsh response. Gillespie noted that Forrest “more than threw the book” at Ulbricht by giving him a life sentence, which was a punishment “beyond even what prosecutors…asked for.”

In the comments section of the post, six readers published reactions that drew the investigative ire of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. In a federal grand jury subpoena dated June 2, the U.S. District Court commanded to turn over “any and all identifying information” we had about the individuals posting those comments.

The six comments are:

Words That We’d Never Thought Would Go Together: “Bacon” and “First Amendment.”

(Courtesy Facebook)

(Courtesy Facebook)

The back story: The town of Winooski, Vermont has a program where businesses can sponsor sidewalks, roads, traffic circles, etc to make the town look nicer. A restaurant named “Sneakers Bistro” decided to sponsor a little turn median, placing mulch and flowers in the area. In addition, the restaurant put up a sign that said “YIELD FOR SNEAKERS BISTRO BACON.”

(The sign makes no sense to us, but it’s their sign.)

The sign was installed in June but in August, a Muslim resident of Winooski contacted the restaurant saying the reference to bacon was “offensive to those who do not consume pork.”

The sign was removed by the restaurant.

We are here to serve people breakfast, not politics,” the owners wrote on their Facebook page Saturday. “We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community.”

The owners also cited safety concerns:

We are here to serve people BREAKFAST, not politics. We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community. There were also concerns raised about safety. Removing it was not a difficult decision. We still love bacon. We still love eggs. Please have the political conversation elsewhere.”

Upon the decision to remove the sign, the proverbial flying pig hit the fan.

People started to call for a boycott of the restaurant saying the decision to remove the sign was “un-American,” “political correctness gone wild,” “caving to Muslims,” and a host of other things. After the restaurant closed their Facebook account, reviewers on Yelp took the restaurant to task.

Even the City Manager weighed in on the issue:

Two Different Instances Of Free Speech.

Papal-Symbol-on-Paper-ROH Carnegie Mellon University is embroiled in somewhat of a controversy after three students were arrested and charged after the university’s annual College of Fine Arts’ Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby on Carnival Weekend.

The president of Carnegie Mellon University says charges have been filed in connection with an incident in which a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down, with a her pubic hair shaved in the shape of a cross.


After a two-week review, Carnegie Mellon police have charged 19-year-old art student, Katherine O’Connor with indecent exposure.

22-year-old Robb Godshaw was also charged with public nudity, along with another student who says he’s friends with both.

The students are claiming “freedom of expression,” to which we wonder “what idea were the students expressing?”

To his credit, the President of the university Dr. Jared L. Cohon seems to understand what has happened and why they students were charged.

He says in a statement:

The students took part in a campus art event and, in the case of the student who portrayed herself as the Pope, made an artistic statement which proved to be controversial. While I recognize that many found the students’ activities deeply offensive, the university upholds their right to create works of art and express their ideas. But, public nudity is a violation of the law and subject to appropriate action.

From this statement, it seems that President Cohon recognizes there is no right to not be offended by someone else’s speech or expression. Just because someone is offended doesn’t mean the person with the idea has to shut up.

Yet in this case, the expression ran afoul of the law. Once again, from Cohon’s statement:

Lamb’s Chapel, The First Amendment and Satellite Beach.

Lambs-Chapel-First-Amendment-ROHOne of the issues the City Council of Satellite Beach took up during their last meeting on February 6, 2013, was “Resolution 924” which:

Establish(s) policies and fee schedule for use of Satellite Beach facilities.

The Council identified issues with the proposed fee schedule and sent the issue back to the Recreation Board for more study and review. However, while fees for use of facilities will not change, there is underlying issue that remains.

We want to address that issue here.

Several sections of proposed Resolution 924 dealing with the administration of the fees were “brought forward” from the current City code. Included is “Section 33” which reads:

Section 33 Permission to use the facilities for denominational and non-denominations religious services or for “Sunday School will be denied, but church-affiliated groups may reserve the facilities for social or recreational purposes.

A government denying use of a facility based on the religious content speech has been deemed un-Constitutional by the Supreme Court.

The case the Court ruled upon is the case Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District.

Lamb’s Chapel, an evangelical church, applied to the local school board for use of under the school board’s policy of letting outside groups rent facilities after school hours. Other groups had rented the school for such things as “civic, social and educational” events. The School Board had established rules which stated:

The rules allow only 2 of the 10 purposes authorized by § 414: social, civic, or recreational uses (Rule 10) and use by political organizations if secured in compliance with § 414 (Rule 8). Rule 7, however, consistent with the judicial interpretation of state law, provides that “[t]he school premises shall not be used by any group for religious purposes.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 57a.

(Please note how the “religious purposes” denial follows closely to that of Satellite Beach’s Section 33.)

Lamb’s Chapel’s made two applications to the school board stating the group wanted to show an educational series of films from the James Dobson led group “Focus on the Family.”

The School Board denied each application:

Fairfax County Church Sues County Government Over Sign.

As many people know, we are very interested in protecting the free speech of people here in the US. Even seemingly “innocent” restrictions are often an affront to the First Amendment. It is our belief even those small restrictions must be vigorously opposed lest the government start approving what we can an cannot say.

Which brings us to a church in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The Church of the Good Shepherd-United Methodist in Vienna, Virginia has decided to sue the Fairfax County Government over a the operation of a $37,000 sign the church installed.

The sign is an electronic sign that changes messages and the church was cited by code enforcement of the county. According to the Washington Examiner:

The complaint stems from a ruling by a county zoning official that said the Church of the Good Shepherd-United Methodist’s newly erected, $37,000 sign was in violation of an ordinance that allows “any movable copy sign … to change messages a maximum of two times within a 24-hour period.”

A letter to the church cited three messages that occurred in a one-day period: “WELCOME, Come on in and beat the heat…,” “Also visit us at” and “Practicing the Presence Thurs., July 5, 1 p.m.”

Consequently, a second code violation was also cited, saying that because the sign changes messages three times, it was not permitted in the county.

We have seen restrictions like this based on the idea of that signs that change messages are a “distraction” to drivers. There are no studies of which we are aware that prove that to be a fact, yet governments try to use that rational to restrict the speech on signs. In fact, because the Fairfax County ordinance allows for day, date, time, and weather to be displayed and changed repeatedly, one has to wonder if it is not the content of the wording on the sign rather than the number of times the messages change.

So what is the solution? We believe that people generally may not want signs that flash, change messages and have animation in front of every business. We can be persuaded that it is “ugly” or “unsightly.”

On Anonymity And The Exchange Of Ideas.

A couple of events happened this week to cause us to re-think or rather re-examine our belief in not only trying to remain anonymous here at Raised on Hoecakes, but whether to allow commenters to post without using their “real” name.

We got a letter from a reader who said they did not have the “bravery” to comment or use their own name. For a citizen to feel that way is troubling on so many levels we don’t know how to address it. Why should anyone fear or be worried about what they say? Why should their ideas and thoughts remain trapped behind what seems to be a shield against the tip of the government spear?

The fact that this fear exists in the city shows we have a long way to go on many fronts. We should encourage and support those who want to speak up no matter what.

Allowing a person to post here anonymously gives them a voice they may not have had or exercised otherwise. It is going to be very difficult to convince us that creating an atmosphere here at Raised on Hoecakes where people can speak anonymously is a bad thing.

We just aren’t buying it.

The other general complaint is that not “signing your name” is somehow a cowardly or “childish” thing to do. We have addressed this before many times and don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it hard to label the Founding Fathers and the Framers of the Constitution as “cowards” or “childish.”

In our book, that is “oh fer two” against anonymous speech in the political arena.

But something has been tickling our brain on anonymous speech as well. We never could put our finger on it. It seemed to always be out of our intellectual grasp.

Well, out of our grasp until the Budget Workshop meeting of Thursday, August 23, 2012. As Council members were going though the budget looking at the individual items, Councilwoman Denan came to money allocated for laptops for the City Council.

She wanted to eliminate the funds.

The Omler Letter.

A letter to the editor from Satellite Beach resident David Omler appeared in the Florida Today newspaper on August 4, 2012. Given the discussions we have had concerning signs, free speech and political speech we have had here on Raised on Hoecakes, we believe the letter is quite relevant.

First, the letter:

Beware, good citizens of Satellite Beach, there are evil things lurking in the night willing to steal your First Amendment Right to free speech.

The following was reported to the Satellite Beach Police Department. In the early morning hours last Friday, there was the theft of a sign from my front yard reading “Recall Sheryl Denan.” I have no proof of anyone who may have done this.

This all appears to be another attempt to silence those who oppose this city council. Such as our longtime City manager retiring (resigning) after being told his job performance review would be based on his ability to silence those who oppose this council.

And then we had Councilwoman Denan wanting to move public comments to the end of meetings based on her “maternal instincts” to protect the other member of the Council.

This past election caused a schism within the city, and their actions have only widened it.

David Omler
Satellite Beach

We had been contacted by Mr. Omler in regards to the theft of his signs prior to the publishing of the letter to the editor. His plight led to our post “Stifling Speech Through Theft” of July 28, 2012.

As citizens, we should all decry the theft of a person’s belongings that are on private property. We would hope we can call agree on that. No matter how much we disagree with someone’s sign, it is un-American to steal it to stifle the exchange of ideas. The thief who stole Mr. Omler’s sign only proved that they were unable to counter his point. That is all there is to it.

We neither agree nor disagree with Mr. Omler’s idea of impeaching Scott Rhodes or initiating a recall effort for Sheryl Denan. To be honest with you, we haven’t given it that much thought. But even if we opposed his efforts, we would not want the discussion to take place. We would not want to deprive the discourse of his ideas by stealing a sign from his private property.

It’s wrong.

Morally and legally, stealing signs with which one disagrees is wrong. If there is nothing else that we can agree on as a community, it should be that.

However, there is another, far reaching event that took place in the city concerning “signs” in general, an “IMPEACH SCOTT RHODES” sign in particular, Mr. Omler, and another citizen, Mr, William Speigelhalter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to make clear that the names and events we are about to discuss are all in the public record. We are not breaking the trust of anyone that contacts us or wishes to remain anonymous.

On Friday, July 13, 2012, Councilwoman Sheryl Denan emailed Satellite Beach Police Chief Jeff Pearson concerning a “possible trespass” on the grounds of DeLaura Middle School. As “proof” of the incident, Denan sent a copy of a picture of a sign reading “IMPEACH RHODES” in a planting area on school grounds.

Six days later, the complaint was assigned to Sergeant Frost of the Satellite Beach Police Department. We haven’t asked, but we suspect the delay in assigning someone to this was that Chief Pearson knew the Council meeting of July 18, 2012 had as an agenda item “political signs” in general. That agenda item was in response to a query which had been made by Councilwoman Denan to Interim City Manager Ayn Samuelson on July 11, 2012 specifically referencing the “IMPEACH RHODES” signs. In addition, the delay gave Chief Pearson some time to informally speak with other department heads such as John Stone, head of the Code Enforcement Department.

(We want to be clear that we are not ascribing any nefarious motives to the Chief of Police or Code Enforcement. In a small town such as Satellite Beach, it is often the better course of action to handle things like this through casual conversations.)

Another Attack On Free Speech. This Time The Culprits Are New York Republicans.

Back in October of 2011, we took note of a report issued by New York Democrats in which Constitutionally protected free speech was labeled a “privilege” and not a “right.”

The report centered on internet comments. The Democrats wanted the ability to demand web administrators take down posts and comments that were deemed by someone to be flaming, trolling and a variety of other things that were “hurtful.”

One would think that every right thinking, Constitution loving believer of freedom would tell the Democrats to go pound sand.

However, such thought processes managed to skip New York Republicans (twenty-three of the forty-nine New York Assembly Republicans, plus one Independent and one Democrat to be precise) who have actually introduced a bill to require site administrators to remove posts and comments made by anonymous contributors when asked to do so.

The bill is being touted as an “anti-cyberbullying” measure by the sponsor:

“While the Internet is a wonderful resource for social networking, sadly it can also used to anonymously bring harm to others,” said [Assemblyman Dean] Murray [(R,C-East Patchogue)]. “My legislation addresses the dangers of cyberbullying and protects the victims of this offense. By demanding these online abusers come out from anonymity and identify themselves, they will hopefully think twice before posting harmful comments about others.”

Even if the anonymous postings were “cyber bullying,” there is no Constitutional provision for the government to stop such speech. Even worse is the bill clearly does not limit the measure to “cyber-bullying” type posts and comments:

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