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February 2, 2013
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Sound familiar?

Dear Editor:

The mayor of Neverland had a pet project: a blue-sky plant. It would be built by the river and use renewable energy. It was promised the plant would insure permanent blue skies and snow at the same time - and without environmental damage. Neverland's residents didn't believe the plant could deliver what was promised and voted it down. The mayor was unhappy.

During the weeks before the election, various groups published truths about the blue-sky plant the city of Neverland found inconvenient. In fact, many such truths demonstrated that information on Neverland's website and in its publicity about the blue-sky plant was wrong.

Shortly after losing the vote, Neverland's attorney had a spontaneous brainstorm about prohibiting inconvenient speech during periods around elections. The brainstorm must have been the attorney's and not the mayor's, since section 6.5 of Neverland's city charter prohibited a mayor from "giving orders to" or interfering with city officials' work.

Regardless of whose brainstorm, newspaper accounts said the city's failure to persuade voters about the blue-sky plant precipitated it. The specific complaint was that some group published truths about the plant without identifying the group's supporters. So, Neverland's City Council enacted an ordinance outlawing inconvenient anonymous speech.

Many people warned the council that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. The council didn't listen because it cared little about more than 200 years of First Amendment jurisprudence. And the mayor beat his chest about how he was a lawyer and he knew the ordinance was OK. Besides, the attorney, who, remember, was completely independent of the mayor, assured the council (in executive session) there was no problem. Then the fun began.

Well-funded nonprofits sued Neverland, resulting in years of city legal expense. There were lawsuits about what speech was covered by the ambiguous ordinance.

Neverland hired five Thought Police.

Rather then being scared off by the ordinance, more anonymous groups arose. They published inconvenient information in newspapers, distributed fliers and mailed brochures. Groups didn't identify themselves because the ordinance was unconstitutional anyway. And identifying supporters would invite intimidation and interference from the Neverland Thought Police. Addresses outside Neverland were used so Neverland's Thought Police could not enforce the ordinance.

Five more Thought Police were hired.

Groups increased their use of social media and other untraceable online tools to disseminate their messages. Neverland couldn't stop it without searching people's computers or snooping on their emails.

Neverland hired 10 more Thought Police.

Neverland's Thought Police prohibited the newspapers from publishing unapproved political messages. One paper complied because it was the city's mouthpiece; the other paper sued Neverland for First Amendment violations. Neverland seized that paper's computers and shuttered its offices.

Aren't we glad we don't live in Neverland?

Maurice Emmer

Aspen


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 3, 2013 09:13AM Published Feb 2, 2013 09:46PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.