Tea Party Challenges County attack on free speech

Members of the Saint Augustine Tea Party reported to Historic City News that they have rejected the latest attempts by St. Johns County to unconstitutionally prohibit free expression, this time at the St Augustine Beach Pier Park.

According to local Tea Party chairman, Lance Thate, this is not the first time a government entity has attempted to enforce a “designated free speech area” on public land. Every time it happens, Thate, who also serves as a leader of the Town Crier Committee, says you can expect patriots to stand up for their rights.

“The First Amendment is under assault while our country, at large, doesn’t have a clue that free speech is being limited to small free speech areas across the land,” Thate told reporters this week. “It has been reported that people who wish to assert their First Amendment rights concerning religious speech and political candidates, have been removed and barred from the county-owned park in St Augustine Beach.”

On Wednesday, June 3rd, four Tea Party members carrying Gadsden Flags challenged the “Designated Free Speech Area” being imposed. The Tea Party believes Civil Rights violations are being committed in the St Augustine Beach Pier Park. Refusing to stay in the designated free speech area, they strolled around the tented retail stalls, chatting, purchasing items; all the while carrying politically incorrect signs.

Thate recounted the reaction of vendors and patrons of the open air market who also share the use of the park. “Most of the vendors told us we are with you, but a few were just plain nasty,” Thate said.

Dave Heimbold, also a Tea Party leader, reported that he was challenged by a female vendor and her male companion as he walked through the park. “Do you have permission to be here?” the woman asked. “We don’t want you here,” the man in the tent added. Heimbold replied, “So, call the police and have us removed.”

“The problem seems to center around the St. Augustine Beach Civic Association and its insistence on controlling activities within the St Augustine Beach Pier Park on Wednesdays,” Thate observed. “William Rosenstock reports that he has been physically assaulted and had his property destroyed by representatives of the Civic Association.”

Rosenstock says he has received threatening letters from the Association’s attorney; suggesting that pursuant to Ordinance 2005-114, if he chooses to express his beliefs outside of the “free speech area”, he can be arrested.

Thate said that in reading Park Ordinance 2005-114, nowhere does it authorize the creation of designated free-speech areas. In fact, he says, it promotes the participation in free speech activities within the park to the fullest extent permitted by law.

“It appears that the Tea Party has asserted its First Amendment rights without incident; however, less seasoned protesters, without the glare of public media, might have less success expressing free speech. Real Americans find the designated free speech area signs repugnant and confusing,” Thate said. “Think about the message it sends to our young people; that government can tell you where you can speak. No, we are not finished yet. This sign must be removed and the designated free speech area must be removed from the aerial view map that the County displays.”

The Saint Augustine Tea Party will challenge the unconstitutionality of the free speech area sign with the St Johns County Board of Commissioners, according to Thate. “Two of the five County Commissioners have informally been contacted and they are supportive of the Tea Party position,” Thate wrote in a recently published article. “In the very near future, Tea Party members will make a formal request to the commission to address this First Amendment violation.”

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