A year ago, I posted about a message board encased in glass outside the Athens County Courthouse (in Ohio) that listed the addresses of all the houses of worship in the area.
Eliot Kalman, a resident who used to head up the local branch of the ACLU, believed the presence of that sign was unconstitutional… he complained about it to local officials but they responded by saying they were simply providing information to the public, not promoting any of the religious groups — and that he could request his own group be added to the list if he wanted. Unsatisfied with that answer, he fought back by putting a giant sticker on the board:
… Kalman said he posted a sticker that stated, “Take Note, From the Constitution of the United States of America,” which includes the First Amendment, including the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses.
In other words, he committed a petty form of vandalism to protest what he saw as a constitutional violation.
Even after his sticker was taken down, he continued to put a new one back up in a weird passive-aggressive battle… Eventually, he was caught on camera and arrested:
Kalman took umbrage to being arrested, handcuffed, searched and “perp walked” after what he considers an appropriate public protest of what he calls this violation of church and state. He showed a document he was given ordering him to stay off the courthouse property, which he called a “pretend order,” because it was given by the Sheriff’s Office, not a judge, and is therefore not appealable.
“They put me in handcuffs for exercising my First Amendment rights as if I were a dangerous person,” Kalman said.
I wrote this around that time and still stand by it:
It’s hard to imagine any judge would see the sign as a promotion of religion, especially if the county official who helps maintain it allows any local religious or non-religious group to be included on the list. I say that despite the fact that it’s managed by the Athens County Ministerial Association, was originally put up in the 1940s by the Athens Christian Education Committee, and includes only two non-Christian groups on the list.
And if you’re going to protest the sign’s existence, don’t do it by altering county property, even with a sticker that can be peeled off (hopefully without sticker residue). That’s stupid. You don’t prove your point, you damage your own cause, and it upsets me, dammit.
The most effective way to protest, in my opinion, is to suggest a local non-religious group be added to the list… and see if it gets rejected. Then, you might have something to work with.
Kalman was charged with criminal mischief, but earlier this year, much to my surprise, Visiting Judge Dale Crawford cleared him of any wrongdoing:
Kalman was cleared of the charge after a “Rule 29 motion” by his attorney, John Cornely, was granted by Crawford. A Rule 29 (of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure) motion states that even in the best light the prosecution has not met the burden of proof and asks the judge to grant the motion which results in a not-guilty verdict.
In asking for the acquittal, Cornely stated that the prosecution had not proven ownership of the directory and that ownership is necessary to give privilege or to take away privilege to do something such as place a sticker on property.
Kalman said after the decision. “I had permission on the 28th and nothing has changed regarding that. I could go over there and do it and I think that we would have the exact same trial with the exact same result.“
That doesn’t take away from what I felt was an inappropriate response. He may have been cleared from any official wrongdoing, but he wasn’t making his case any stronger.
So you can imagine my surprise when Kalman was back in the news yesterday. Take a wild guess as to why…
Eliot Kalman… pleaded “not guilty” to a single charge of criminal trespass during a hearing on Monday (Nov. 9) for allegedly defacing the directory, which lists contact info for various area religious and service organizations, on Oct. 29.
“One Eliot Kalman did trespass on the Athens County Courthouse by placing a sticker saying ‘unconstitutional’ on the Courthouse Directory Bulletin that is located on the courthouse and is clearly posted ‘Authorized Personnel Only,’” the complaint reads, noting that soon after the complaint was served, Kalman placed another sticker on the directory.
The criminal trespassing charge is more serious than the criminal mischief charge against him last year. It may take a few weeks before any of this is resolved.
(Image via City-Data. Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this articles were posted earlier)