Rives Grogan admits he’s annoying: “I preach, and I preach loudly on Capitol Hill.”
Annoying may be too kind for Grogan. He’s often downright offensive and disruptive.
Grogan is an antichoice activist who shouts his beliefs in public forums. Monday, he chose his biggest forum yet, Barack Obama’s second inauguration, to climb a tree within view of the president. From his treetop perch, Grogan shouted antiabortion messages throughout the swearing-in ceremony.
Capitol police arrested Grogan, and a judge banned him from the District of Columbia until his court hearing on February 25, an order far more extensive than sought by the U.S. attorney’s office, which asked only that Grogan be prohibited from the Capitol grounds, House and Senate office buildings, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court.
Judge Karen Howze’s decision has outraged First Amendment advocates on the right and left. John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute says, “Banning him from the District because he’s sitting in a tree or speaking out, I think is absurd. He’s strange, but do you know how many strange people enter D.C. every day who probably shouldn’t be here?”
Vanderbilt University’s David Hudson, a law professor and First Amendment scholar says, “They need to go back and draft a more narrowly tailored restriction — meaning something that would comport with the First Amendment.”
The judge’s order surprised Arthur Spritzer of the American Civil Liberties Union because it came while the case is pending: “An order like that arguably could make more sense after the person has been convicted, and I am not saying I would agree with that even then for an entire city.”
Others occasionally have been exiled form the entire District. Still, the scope of the judge’s ruling -- banning Grogan from all 68 square miles of roads, waterways, and public spaces in D.C. -- is shocking.
Shocking is, of course, Grogan’s modus operandi. The 47-year-old dubs himself “Pastor Rick.” He runs a ministry and boarding house in Los Angeles. Grogan gained a measure of notoriety for running onto the field during a National League playoff game, brandishing an antiabortion poster with “Vote Romney/Ryan” on the flip side. In Lima, Ohio, he was dragged from the balcony during a speech by president Obama. On that occasion, his poster displayed graphic images.
Grogan recently was arrested for disrupting the Senate, and twice in the last six years he has been arrested for yelling during Supreme Court hearings. He even once heckled Pat Robertson. ‘Nuff said.
Judge Howze cited “a danger to the community” in her decision, saying Grogan “appears to endanger hundreds of people, disrupting the inauguration throughout.” The judge pointed out that she could have remanded the activist to jail, given his arrest record, rather than releasing him and restricting his movement.
Certainly, there is an issue of conflicting rights in the current case: Grogan’s First Amendment right to free speech vs. the crowd’s First Amendment right to assemble peacefully on the Washington Mall to witness the president’s inauguration.
But however those rights are adjudicated, banning Grogan from the entire city goes beyond anything required for public safety. As Grogan says, “I don’t know why they would ban me from all of Washington. I think they are totally suppressing my freedom of speech.”
That’s the only thing he’s right about.
Freedom to say what one wants never depends on the content of the speech. We all have the right to be wise or foolish, as well as obnoxious.