Over the Memorial Day weekend, pro-life demonstrators plan to plant 66,000 flags on the mall at the state capitol in Bismack to represent the number of abortions which have taken place in the state since Roe vs. Wade.
“Women are coming out more and more in droves and are talking about their experience and how they suffered,” event organizer Maria Wanchic told Forum Communications. “Part of their healing process is to acknowledge the deaths of a real person and go through a grieving process.”
But some are claiming the demonstration is against state policy.
“You and I agree on about 1% of things,” a state employee emailed me about the demonstration. “But I think we both agree that what this artile says is happening on Capital Grounds is ridiculous. It’s a religious demonstration. Regardless of one’s stance on abortion, allowing an admittedly religious ceremony to take place on capital grounds is asinine.”
He also linked to the State of North Dakota’s facility management policies which state, in part: “The planned display must be education in nature and not used to promote any religious, political or other special interest agenda.” The areas this policy applies to are defined as “the Judicial Wing Office Building; the State Office Building; and the Liberty Memorial Building, and the Capitol grounds.”
It’s hard to imagine how that policy is constitutional. The capitol grounds in Bismarck are routinely used for political demonstrations (a few of which I’ve helped organize). These demonstrations often have an overtly political or religious agenda, and what’s wrong with that? The first amendment wasn’t intended to be exclusionary but rather inclusive.
The emailer suggested that by allowing this religious demonstration in Bismarck the state was endorsing religion. But that’s not true. If the state allowed only one religious point of view access to the capitol for demonstrations, that would rise to the level of endorsement, but as along as all religious and political points of view are welcome, there is no endorsement.
“What would the people of ND say about a Muslim organization planting flags symbolizing the number of Iraqi dead or an atheist organization planting flags symbolizing the number of boys fondled by Catholic Priests?” the emailer asks.
Well this North Dakota citizen would support the right of these organizations to demonstrate, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with their message.
That’s how free speech works.