This video has been around for a few days, but I ignored it. It is another lesson why assumptions should never be made. When I first heard that protesters were arrested at the Jefferson Memorial for dancing, I assumed it involved loud music and wild gyrations. I assumed it was something that would be distracting to those who come to visit the Memorial.
Well, the only distractions that came from this event were the arrests.
First, a little history. In 2008, a group gathered to dance at the Jefferson Memorial in silence. The only music they had was heard through earphones. One person was arrested. The case wound through the courts until a judge ruled that “in order to maintain an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence” dancing should remain banned at the Memorial.
Five people were arrested last week in protest of the court’s ruling. Several images jump out while watching the video. The dancers are not ostentatious by any means. Their dancing is more like gliding. Loud talking would be more of a disruption. One man even continues to dance after being handcuffed. Another man becomes agitated after being told to shut up by the police officers. Rightly, he defends himself. Free speech has not yet been banned at the Memorial, just free dancing.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the camera people chased from the Memorial. They are threatened with arrest and told videoing the Memorial is illegal. That is absolutely false. Who has not visited the monuments in Washington, D.C., and not taken a picture or video? The cops simply do not want to be held accountable.
It is one thing to put a restriction on dancing in the Smithsonian or some other closed facility where admission may be required and space limited. The Jefferson Memorial is open air. Unless it is a large group holding an event, visitors are not going to be inconvenienced by the free spirit of dancing, something wholly appropriate to Jefferson’s ideology.
That the judge would rule that “an atmosphere of calm, tranquility, and reverence” is paramount for the Memorial stands in stark contrast with the Supreme Court that has ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church can properly demonstrate at funerals of dead soldiers. In comparison to the Jefferson Memorial, those are events for tranquility and reverence.
Yes, the Westboro Baptist Church people are staying some distance away from the funeral. Legally, that is the difference between these people chanting, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and a few dancers trying to honor Jefferson’s memory inside the Memorial.
Practically, a funeral is a private matter, and the Jefferson Memorial a public place. Protests are far more appropriate for public places.
This is not to say that the Westboro Baptist Church people should not have the right to protest. Putting up with people like this is the price to pay for the First Amendment. On the other hand, arresting silent and unobtrusive dancers at the Jefferson Memorial weakens the First Amendment.
This does not honor Thomas Jefferson who was known as an advocate of dance and a good violin player at parties. “[Dance] is a healthy exercise, elegant and very attractive for young people.”
The article has been updated to reflect information on Jefferson’s love of dance.