I am completing Defending College Heights, a novel about an Irish Catholic family and a college administration in the aftermath of the murder of a U.S. Army recruiter. I started work on Defending because I had connections in the higher education community who were quite knowledgeable on the issues, or had worked closely with military recruiters on campus.
In my research, I went back to pro-military as well as anti-war protests against the Vietnam War. Then, and now, there were confrontations between military personnel and civilians. Most of these protests were non-violent, but others were not. Kent State, where four students were killed and nine wounded, was perhaps the tipping point of the protest movement.
Whatever we think of the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq, we owe our citizens who choose to serve our respect; they made their choice and they are making the ultimate sacrifice. Unlawful attacks on military recruiters or their place of work are a crime, and will not force them to change their message. If anything, they will catch their opponent’s attention.
One Republican congressman, Todd Akin of Montana, has introduced a bill, posted as H.R. 6023, also called the Freedom to Serve Act of 2008. Introduced in the House Judiciary Committee on May 12, the act prohibits certain forms of interference against military recruiting. Most are obvious crimes: destruction of property and infliction of injury being prime examples, but others are gray areas; even peaceful protest in front of a recruiting office could be considered interference and intimidation (those exact words are used in the bill).
The act proposes a 1 year prison term for first-time offenders and a term of three years or less for subsequent offense. There are state and local laws to protect persons and private property and the military abides by those laws just as civilians do. In effect, this bill makes certain forms of civilian protest, especially the more violent acts, a federal crime.
Akin has 26 co-sponsors, all Republicans, most from states that attract large numbers of young men and women to the military: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. However, while the bill lists several examples of acts against persons and property, none of these happened in a sponsor’s home state. This, and the gray areas, interference and intimidation, do not bode well for the bill.
I understand the most obvious intentions of H.R. 6023, to protect the rights and property of recruiters and recruits. This bill would be a great accomplishment for a conservative Congressman to bring home to his or her district. But I am uncomfortable with those same representatives mistaking peaceful protest as interference or intimidation. A bill such as H.R. 6023 would open the door for the federal courts to make those judgments.
Whatever your political stripes, you have to agree that those who cause injury or damage property should be punished. But there is a reason why these powers, with respect to private property and personal injury, are vested with the states. The states want to set the punishment that fits the crime. They don’t want the federal government to intimidate or interfere.
Contact Stuart Nachbar at http://www.EducatedQuest.com, a blog on education politics, policy and technology or read about his first book, The Sex Ed Chronicle, a novel on education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, at