The West Point Eight lose case

By David Bulla

A federal jury ruled against eight protesters who wore T-shirts that spelled “U.S. out of Iraq” at a February 2004 Army-Navy basketball game at West Point.

The jury ruled in effect that Christl Arena officials’ determination to keep the protesters from publicly expressing their political opinion did not violate the First Amendment.

The arena’s building manager at the time, John Spisso, ordered the eight to cover their shirts or exit the building. When they failed to comply, military police escorted them from the building. They were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. Then Colonel Ann Homer, who at the time was garrison commander, banned the protestors from West Point for five years. The Army eventually dropped all charges against the eight. However, the protesters sued both Army officials.

Judge Stephen Robinson told the jury that civilian demonstrations were not prohibited at the U.S. Military Academy at the time. Several months later, such a rule was put in place.

One might question whether or not West Point is the appropriate place to make such a protest less than a year into the Iraq War. Yet the First Amendment makes no distinction about where free expression may be practiced. If one cannot protest in a federally funded facility — where the protection of free speech would presumably by the highest — where can you?

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