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George Coleman: Agreeing to disagree

George Coleman • Updated Feb 18, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Two items in the news have drawn my attention, and not in a good way. First, a bill proposed by Matthew Hill. As introduced, it provides civil immunity for the driver of an automobile who injures a protester who is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising due care. The second where state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers had to cancel their press conference due to outbursts by protesters.

To me, the current political environment is more turbulent than any time in recent memory. I have to go back to the 1960s to think of a time where the country was more divided. At that time, civil rights protests and anti-war protests often ended in violence and death. Those of us who remember those times don’t want to see our country going through episodes like that again.

Which is why Rep. Hill’s bill chills me so. With emotions highly charged, passing this bill creates a problem. It’s the burden of proof with regard to intent. The bill goes on to say “A person shall not be immune from civil liability if the actions leading to the injury were willful or wanton.” With this language, the protester would have to prove willful or wanton intent, which is difficult. Would passing this law lead to an outbreak of protesters assaulted by motor vehicles? I would hope not. But in the current environment, it easily could happen.

So I’m siding with protesters in this case. In the next one, I am not.

I find it highly disappointing that Rep. Pody and Sen. Beavers were unable to hold a press conference where they wished to discuss their proposed Defense of Natural Marriage Act. Like many issues facing the country today, this one is emotionally charged. People on either side will have strong opinions. In our country, it is our right to disagree with one another. But no one will positively promote his or her point of view by simply shouting down the opposition. If we demand access to our lawmakers, then we have to hear them out in a civilized manner. We have the right to challenge them during a question-and-answer period. We can respectfully tell them we don’t agree and why we feel that way. The group of protesters chanting, “Kill the bill,” did nothing to help their cause, and in fact may have hurt their cause by their disrespectful behavior.

So, I am for protests – and against protests. It’s all depending on how they are done.

It is the right of our citizens to assemble and protest peacefully. There is power in peaceful protest. It allows people to see that they are not alone in their opinions and join like-minded individuals to attempt to make change. Some protests get out of hand. It is up to our well-trained law enforcement officers to step in and handle that problem when it happens. It is not up to citizens in their vehicles to take matters into their own hands. Protesters blocking the street? Turn around, let the police do their job. And my advice to Rep. Pody and Sen. Beavers would be to have the appropriate law enforcement officers at their next attempt to discuss the Defense of Natural Marriage Act. Disturbing the peace is an actionable offense that may result in removal from the room and possible prosecution. 

So let’s all agree to disagree peacefully, respectfully, as well as passionately. Our community will be all the better for it. 

George Coleman is publisher of Lebanon Publishing Co. Email him at gcoleman@lebanondemocrat.com.

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