Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it say free speech is contingent on one's ability to buy insurance.
But that's precisely what's happening at Iowa Statehouse, where state Department of Administrative Service is suddenly requiring groups, large and small, to have $1 million in liability coverage before a rally. It is, in a real sense, the suppression of speech through administration. And it's especially biased against groups of limited means.
If this week has taught Americans nothing else, it is that a free and open society is, in fact, messy, which can also be costly. The right-wing white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, hold vile, indefensible views about racial superiority. They're neither founded in scientific fact nor moral reason.
That said, those who marched peaceably have every right to do so. And it's incumbent that every citizen defend that right, no matter how abhorrent their views.
In Iowa, both the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps have recently been told that insurance was a prerequisite for a rally, reported The Des Moines Register. Both organizations have a long history of organized protest on Statehouse grounds. What's changed, however, is the state's attempt to regulate dissent through an administrative action.
The conservative Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is a relatively small organization. It's simply not feasible for a group this size to raise the funds for such an insurance policy. Nor should such a request have ever been made.
This regulation flies in the face of everything for which the First Amendment stands.
For their part, state officials said they're reviewing the sudden push to enforce the liability insurance mandate.
Wednesday's "No Hate" rally in Davenport is precisely how government should respond to these protests. The rally was planned before the events of this past weekend. But the tragic incidents in Virginia elevated the rally at Vander Veer Botanical Park. Hundreds attended and stood against racism. A handful of counterprotesters, wearing Trump/Pence T-shirts, also showed up. Neither side experienced onerous regulations expressly designed to quash debate in the public sphere like those at the Statehouse. By the end, several No Hate rally attendees even engaged the counterprotesters in spirited, topical debate. Terre Klipsch, wife of Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch, even hugged them after marching with the No Hate crowd totaling more than 500.
But, perhaps of greatest import, was the response of Davenport police officers, who swooped in just as the two groups were exchanging increasingly heated words. They separated the counterprotesters, pointing them to a street corner, another public space. And there, the four men expressed themselves, one sign correctly stating, "Hate speech is still free speech."
This is how it's done. Davenport should be proud.
Iowa state officials are, on the contrary, weaponizing cash in order to crush dissent. They've set near impossible standards that, either by design or in error, make the fundamental act of speaking out on public property unattainable for most Iowans.
Rich or poor, any group of Iowans has the right to protest. But as it now stands, state officials are promoting rules that give voice solely to the well-heeled.