The Farmington Board of Selectmen’s decision to prohibit political activity on public property, ostensibly to silence one aggressive petition-gatherer, would be perfectly justifiable if not for its pesky noncompliance with the whole Constitution thing.

There’s the rub. What sounds good for the people — allowing public concerts to occur without interruption — runs counter to a founding American principle, the right to free speech.

Selectmen were wrong to prohibit political activity on public land. They reacted to a vexing situation and likely believed, for better or worse, they were doing the right thing. Yet this natural government reaction — ban it! — is absolutely the wrong course when it comes to speech.

The right course, as always, is to combat speech with speech. If this one voice is causing some consternation, let the voices of 100 rise in opposition. And Constitutional protections of speech shouldn’t extend to blatant displays of disorderly conduct or public nuisance. If this is indeed happening, let rules against such behavior be enforced.

One of the virtues — or vices, depending on your point of view — of a free society is being exposed to political viewpoints, without permission, with which you might disagree. This can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re settling with family and friends to listen to some music on an early summer evening.

Yet if you think that’s bad, consider the alternative: a government regulating when and where you can speak. This makes one annoying petition-gatherer seem trivial.

In this case, government action was unneeded and Farmington selectmen should reverse their decision. The body with ultimate regulatory authority in cases of speech are the people.

The town should let them flex it.


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