You Don’t Have A Constitutional Right To Heckle

Earlier this morning at Blogsnow, there seemed to be dozens of British bloggers who were in a big huff over this story. It must be a cultural thing because I am just not grokking what they’re so upset about:

“The Labour Party has apologised after an 82-year-old member was thrown out of its annual conference for heckling. Walter Wolfgang, from London, was ejected from the hall after shouting “nonsense” as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy.

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry, but he was not arrested.

Party chairman Ian McCartney criticised Mr Wolfgang’s behaviour but said the way he was ejected was “inappropriate”.

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“I’m going to personally apologise to him,” Mr McCartney said. “I’m going to personally meet him if he takes the opportunity.”

Mr Wolfgang, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1937, is a member of the Stop the War Coalition.

Erith and Thamesmead constituency party chairman Steve Forrest, who was sitting next to Mr Wolfgang, was also thrown out after complaining about his treatment.

…However Mr McCartney said Mr Wolfgang would not be allowed back into the conference, which ends on Thursday.

The Labour Party has a responsibility to remove people who create a “persistent disturbance”, he said.

….The party member of 57 years’ standing told the BBC Two’s Daily Conference Live programme: “These two toughies came round and wanted to manhandle me out.

“I said: ‘Do you want me to leave? I will leave, you don’t need to manhandle me.’ Physically, I am not too well, so I said I would follow them.

“Most of the Labour Party stewards are very nice people. One or two people lend themselves to this nonsense.

“It makes me feel that the people who resort to these tactics are very unsure of themselves and they are on the losing side.”

Granted, the guy is 82 years old, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s old enough to know better than to heckle a speaker. Let me also add that it’s a bit odd that the police felt the need to use a Terrorism Act to justify keeping some old codger from reentering a room and disrupting a meeting.

That being said, had that exact same situation occurred in the United States, I’d see absolutely no problem whatsoever with removing the heckler. Now some people might claim that would violate the heckler’s right to free speech. However, they are not only wrong, they have it exactly backwards: the heckler is interrupting the free speech of the speaker.

The idea that the law should be neutral between an obnoxious heckler shouting from the cheap seats and a politician invited to speak to a crowd is simply asinine. You have no more constitutional right to heckle than you do to demand your column be published in your local newspaper or that CNN put you on the air.

The Constitution does guarantee free speech. However, that does not mean that other people have to cede their right of free speech to you or that they are required to provide you with an audience for what you have to say.

And if that’s not enough for you, it’s also just plain rude. So toss that heckler and don’t feel bad about it.

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