Many famous Americans have spoken eloquently about the critical need for freedom of speech. Virginian James Madison stated, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” More than 100 years later, President Harry Truman warned, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
It is more than ironic that Haymarket’s leaders, a town which prides itself on being, “Everyone’s Home Town,” would silence an opinion it disagrees with. It is doubly ironic and unacceptable that the opinion expressed was one that criticized a holiday celebrating two men who fought to keep fellow men enslaved and voiceless.
The following is the email that the mayor and town councilmembers, with the exception of the courageous Bond Cavazos, wanted kept silent. It began with a polite request to “read the following letter aloud into the minutes”:
“We recently spent our ninth January as citizens of Haymarket and Virginia. This is the first year that the holiday dedicated to Lee and Jackson was brought to our consciousness. At a time when most thinking individuals would rather let this day slink into the oblivion which it deserves, the Town of Haymarket decided to honor the memory of these two people by shutting down the government and letting the taxpayers pick up the bill. We understand Haymarket was one of only two towns in Prince William County to celebrate this day. Perhaps the events of Charlottesville have slipped from your memory in your decision to highlight the evil which was perpetrated upon a race of people. This evil was the same racism which tore this country apart in a great Civil War. This is the same indefensible evil which these two soldiers defended.
“We believe that the men and women who serve in our military swear an oath to uphold and defend our country and our Constitution. No one who violates their oath, nor those who violated that oath in our past, should be celebrated or commemorated in Haymarket. If you need a holiday, find people who fought against slavery, or those who work for peace.”
Mayor Leake, Vice Mayor Edwards, Councilman Shannon, Councilman Panthi, Councilman Leake, and Councilman Day agreed to prohibit the email from being read out loud, while permitting all other emails to be read. The mayor and council valued their personal biases above the Constitution’s First Amendment free expression, and censored our expression. We understand that people may disagree with our clearly stated opinion; that is their right as Americans, a sacred right guaranteed by the First Amendment. We do not understand or accept why our elected officials, all of whom are paid by taxpayer monies, would so arrogantly censor our request to read the email out loud into the minutes and wrongly limit our First Amendment rights. Listening to and reflecting on others’ opinions may lead one to revise, reinforce, or reject their own assumptions. Denying or censoring that process is an abridgment of rights, and an example of incompetent and wrongful governance.
James and Maureen Carroll