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MONDAY, JULY 24, 2006
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EDITORIAL

President of free country should respect his critics

President Bush lives and works behind a security screen that separates him from the American people. It's necessary to protect him and the nation from those who want to hurt or kill him. But the White House seems to have a definition of "hurt" that includes the exercise of free speech.

It's probably too much to expect the president to invite known dissenters into the White House. But when he goes out into the country and stages public events, he ought to make himself accessible to those exercising "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." That quotation is straight out of the First Amendment.

Instead, Mr. Bush surrounds himself with sympathetic audiences. When detractors manage to get close to him, they're not welcome.

At numerous events around the country — some political, some governmental — people who want to protest Mr. Bush's policies have been forced to leave or even been arrested.

Now the government is having to defend itself in court from civil suits filed by some of those protesters who claim they have been mistreated, The Associated Press reports. Unfortunately, individuals such as Secret Service agents and local sheriff's deputies are also being sued. They're caught in the middle for enforcing ill-advised policies imposed by those higher up.

Defenders of these efforts to gag dissent say the protesters were disorderly and refused to obey reasonable safety restrictions. And, of course, they tell us that Sept. 11 made draconian security necessary.

But consider Leslie Weise, a 40-year-old environmental lawyer evicted last year in Denver from a Bush town hall meeting about Social Security. She says the Secret Service told her later that she caught its attention with her bumper sticker: "No More Blood for Oil."

Imagine that. An American citizen thinking that she has the right to say the president is wrong.

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