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Bulldozing Free Speech

How people respond to criticism can reveal a lot about their character.  Some might try to debate or reason with those they disagree with.  Others prefer to ignore critics.  City officials in Honolulu take a different approach: They use a bulldozer.

Choon James is a successful real estate broker with over two decades of experience in Hawaii.  But the city of Honolulu is seeking to seize property she’s owned for almost a decade to build what she calls a “super-sized” fire station in rural Hauula.

Since January 2010, she has put up signs to protest Honolulu’s use of eminent domain.  These signs declare “Eminent Domain Abuse: Who’s Next?” and “YouTube Eminent Domain Abuse—Hawaii.”  For more than three years these signs have been up without any incident.

But now the city is showing a callous disregard for Choon’s freedom of speech.  Back in May, Honolulu seized two of her eminent domain protest signs.  Without her consent, city employees went onto the property and seized and impounded her signs before damaging them. Even worse, the city slapped her with a notice for trespassing, for property she is trying to defend in court.

After these signs were torn down, Choon placed three more signs there.  These lasted just a few months before the city once again seized the signs.  This time, Honolulu was much more dramatic.  On October 18, city workers, backed by police officers, squad cars and a bulldozer, came by and literally bulldozed those protest signs.

The city’s actions show a shameful lack of respect for the First and Fourth Amendments.  Citizens have a right to protest government actions.  The First Amendment was enacted precisely to protect citizens who criticize the government from retaliation.  Lawsuits challenging Honolulu’s unreasonable seizures and chilling attacks on free speech are now pending in federal court.

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