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WalMart and Government Collude to Disrupt Bill of Rights Lesson

It’s easy to become discouraged as we watch the Bush administration draw more power to itself and exercise that power to chip away at respect for the American Constitution, the rule of law, and basic human decency. When I get discouraged, I like to remove my gaze from the White House and take note of the large number of people outside of power who aren’t just moping and doping alone on the beaches. There are a lot of people out there who are doing what they can to draw attention and protest to… OK, the Bush administration, drawing more power to itself and exercising that power to chip away at respect for the American Constitution, the rule of law, and basic human decency. If finding other people who notice and care is as close as I’m going to get to fulfillment, I’ll take it.

Tonight, I’ve found a great resource put together by Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. It’s called McCarthyism Watch, and it’s a running tally of instances in which Big Brother government has done its best to intimidate and trample on the civil liberties of American citizens. Through McCarthyism Watch, I ran across an incident I hadn’t heard of before. It’s not exactly news by now; call it olds if you like, but it’s still important to know about, and the irony is just stunning.

Selina Jarvis is a high school social studies teacher in Currituck County, North Carolina, where humans first took flight a century ago. Last year, she wanted to teach her students about the Bill of Rights, but in a way that was vibrant and applied, not distant and abstract. So rather than assign yet another “The Bill of Rights and How It Affects Me. By Melinda.” essay, Jarvis asked her students to take photographs that illustrated the rights enumerated by the Constitution’s first ten amendments.

McCarthyism Watch explains what happened next:

One student “had taken a photo of George Bush out of a magazine and tacked the picture to a wall with a red thumb tack through his head. Then he made a thumb’s down sign with his own hand next to the President’s picture, and he had a photo taken of that, and he pasted it on a poster.”

According to Jarvis, the student, who remains anonymous, was just doing his assignment, illustrating the right to dissent.

But over at the Kitty Hawk Wal-Mart, where the student took his film to be developed, this right is evidently suspect.

An employee in that Wal-Mart photo department called the Kitty Hawk police on the student. And the Kitty Hawk police turned the matter over to the Secret Service.

On Tuesday, September 20, the Secret Service came to Currituck High. “At 1:35, the student came to me and told me that the Secret Service had taken his poster,” Jarvis says. “I didn’t believe him at first. But they had come into my room when I wasn’t there and had taken his poster, which was in a stack with all the others.”

She says the student was upset.

“He was nervous, he was scared, and his parents were out of town on business,” says Jarvis.

She, too, had to talk to the Secret Service.

“Halfway through my afternoon class, the assistant principal got me out of class and took me to the office conference room,” she says. “Two men from the Secret Service were there. They asked me what I knew about the student. I told them he was a great kid, that he was in the homecoming court, and that he’d never been in any trouble.”

Then they got down to his poster.

“They asked me, didn’t I think that it was suspicious,” she recalls. “I said no, it was a Bill of Rights project!”

Fortunately, the social studies student was not indicted for his First Amendment poster… but the Secret Service did forward his case on to the U.S. Attorney’s office for further government review.

Crazy? Yeah. Scary crazy? Hell, yeah. What do you think that high school student and his whole school learned about the Bill of Rights that day? Some lesson.

I am really grateful to McCarthyism Watch for letting me know about this incident, and a disturbing number of other incidents like it. Really, really, really grateful. But it turns out that McCarthyism Watch, like the Bill of Rights, is threatened. Rothschild explains:

I need your support. We’re putting up all this interesting and fresh material on our website, and though we’re giving it away free, it costs us a lot to do so. What’s more, we’re frighteningly short of money here at The Progressive, which is a nonprofit legally and oh so literally. That’s why I’m urging you to make a tax-deductible contribution today. I really appreciate it.

You heard the man. We appreciate him, he appreciates us. Let’s consummate the lovefest. If you’ve got a bit of extra cash, click here to visit McCarthyism Watch, look for the “Donate” button on the lower right, and do what you can to help Matthew Rothschild do what he can.

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