Local Open Fire Ordinances Don’t Overcome Our First Amendment Rights

I can’t be the only one who has wondered how the story of the Swansea man who plans to burn a Patriots jersey in his home fire pit tonight would be going differently if he were a Black Lives Matter activist putting the American flag on the flames.  Kate Bramson reports on the latest development:

“We cannot legally issue a permit because the material he is proposing to burn is not permitted to be burned,” [Swansea Fire Chief Eric] Hajder said in a Thursday morning interview. “Any time open burning is conducted, it would have to be clean wood only.”

Hajder said he and the town’s police chief met with Hajder “at length” Wednesday morning and advised the homeowner that it’s against state law to burn anything other than clean wood.

Ordinances governing things like open flames are meant for larger-scale activities that are clearly not “speech.”  The distance between burning a shirt and burning one’s trash (to which Hajder compares it) is a chasm not only in scale, but also in intention.

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Think of the scope of government control over our lives indicated even in the insinuation that a person would need a permit for the small-scale, short-duration action of putting a flame to a shirt in a safe location on one’s own property.  Then watch as all those people who’ve proclaimed the importance of the First Amendment in order to protect professional athletes from facing criticism and the private actions of fans find they have nothing to say about a literal example of government’s using the force of law in order to trespass on private property and prevent an act of free expression.

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