What Happens When the Constitution is Put in the Back Seat?

What Happens When the Constitution is Put in the Back Seat?

Freedom of Speech and the Cost of Being Right

On June 3rd Damon Atkins attended a flag raising that he disagreed with to kick off pride month in Reading, PA. He did nothing violent. He made no threats. He simply showed up, stood on the opposite side of the road, held a sign that read “Jesus said Go and Sin No More”, and then read and recited Bible verses. 

The local police gave him a warning, and as he continued to peacefully protest they chose to arrest him for disorderly conduct. 

Did Atkins have to agree with the pride event? No.

Can Atkins protest peacefully? Absolutely. 

In fact, it was not only wrong to arrest him but also unconstitutional. If someone wants to protest war, fiscal irresponsibility, or even puppies, they can, if it is peaceful and does not cause violence. 

Historical examples of the power of peaceful protest range from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on the American Civil Rights movement to Gandhi’s opposition to South Africa’s discrimination policies. Peaceful protest works, and the Founders knew that when you squelch the voice of the people you amp up the noise of tyranny. 

The same Founders made it clear in the very First Amendment that free speech with peaceful assembly was paramount. People should have the right to their own opinion and not be forced to believe and/or agree with whatever political party was in power or leader was in office. 

Danger grows when the people we trust to protect us choose to stray away from the law and lean directly into their feelings, biases, and opinions. 

The police officer who arrested Atkins turned his back on the Constitution. 

Did the officer know the law? 

Is he familiar with the Constitution? You would think so. 

Let’s assume he does. What we are left with is that it was a targeted arrest to make opponents of the LGBTIQA+ groups, take notice, fear, and stop protesting. A police officer’s job is to serve and protect EVERYONE. He did neither for Atkins. 

In an age where the public is rapidly losing trust in American institutions and the politically powerful can corruptly use their power to silence or arrest opposition, we are in jeopardy of losing the rule of law and due process. 

Regardless of where you stand on whatever issue is being debated, shutting down peaceful protest is a threat to your rights. Salvador Meave, Gay Rights Activist said this to One America News (OAN) regarding Atkins’ arrest:

The First Amendment, I don’t care what side you’re on. I don’t care what you say, that’s your right. Period. Even though it does not line up with my ideology, you can still say that. This is the United States of America. He (Atkins) can say whatever he wants to. That right for him is the same right that I have. If I do not voice my opinion in support of this man saying whatever he wants, I am next. Because guess what? I am a gay activist and I believe all of us have that voice. I even encourage him to use his voice cuz guess what? If they come for him, they’re gonna come for me. That First Amendment Right, I stand by it. I stand for it. I am an American and we have that right to speak our mind and when I see this, it burns me up! It burns me up! Guess what? That same right is the same right that fires my activism. Pride is born in activism, and there are gonna be people that don’t say or agree with what I think. There are gonna be people who don’t agree with my lifestyle. Guess what? It’s ok.


Can you say that? Do you agree with Salvador Meave? 

Regardless of whether you support what a peaceful protestor is saying, we can be better and come together to uphold and protect our American rights, institutions of law, and right to due process. The Constitution cannot be an afterthought or else the very fabric of our lives is in danger.

So what happened to Damon Atkins? 

Four days later after a review of the arrest along with applicable case law, the District Attorney withdrew the charges. What came with it was silence. The arresting officer never apologized. The police department did not make a public statement – not one word was spoken. It was almost as if they were saying, “Keep moving. There’s nothing to see here.” 

I can’t say it enough. 

Read the Constitution. Know your rights. Elect officials and support community leaders who value what our country is based on so that we may all keep our “unalienable rights of... Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


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