Andover Township contradicts itself

A recent Facebook post from a high-ranking Andover Township official called out this website for its practice of constitutionally-protected anonymous speech.  In reply, we will once again take a moment to explain that anonymous speech is an American tradition and a bedrock of American freedom.  America's founders practiced anonymous speech.  Founders Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers using anonymity.


Since the beginnings of our Republic, anonymous speech has been protected under federal law.  The United States Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.  A frequently cited Supreme Court ruling is McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, in which the Court wrote:


"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society."


The United States Supreme Court has extended and protected the right to anonymous speech well beyond the printed page.  In 2002, for example, the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring proselytizers to register their true names with the mayor's office before going door-to-door.  Such  long standing rights to anonymity and the protections it affords extend to the Internet.  As the Supreme Court has recognized, the Internet offers a powerful democratic forum in which anyone can become a "pamphleteer" or "a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox."


Anonymous speech is protected for a variety of reasons.  These include concerns about political or economic retribution, harassment, or even threats to life and liberty (false imprisonment).  Whistleblowers who report on private companies or government organizations are often targets for suppression and need anonymity.  Victims of domestic violence use anonymity to rebuild their lives where abusers cannot follow.


The suppression of anonymous speech is of great concern today.  Some local government officials do not understand the Bill of Rights as well as state and federal organizations do.  As in the recent case in Hudson County, when local officials break the law in an attempt to suppress the civil rights of anonymous bloggers who criticize them, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department will take note and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will investigate.


A nasty reference was made to this website's "high priced attorney."  We do not have an attorney, high priced or otherwise, but refer any problems we encounter to a legal foundation concerned with Internet freedom.  Remember, when you question our freedom, you question the freedom of everyone who uses the Internet. 

Further reference was made to an incident at that favorite Andover Township venue -- the old American Nazi beer hall at the former Camp Nordland.  The incident involved three elected officials from Sussex County (a freeholder and two members of Andover Township's local government) who accosted a guest at a county GOP event over what they accused him of writing on a blog.  


In contrast to Watchdog, Andover Township's Deputy Mayor has a very expensive attorney.  We have obtained a copy of a retainer agreement from another case, signed by the attorney in question, in which a $25,000 retainer is required "prior to any brief being filed."  Ouch!


We certainly hope that the taxpayers of Andover Township won't get stuck with any of the bill as a result of this ridiculous incident.  It wasn't too long ago that a certain Freeholder and former Andover Township Mayor hired this same attorney and then asked the County to pick up the cost. 


As for who was where, when?  Well that allegation was made by the Andover Deputy Mayor and his, rather pricy, attorney.  Before getting all angry with your humble scribes here at Watchdog, you might want to get hold of the copy of the documents that the New Jersey Herald and Star-Ledger have in their possession.  It was the Star-Ledger that printed that the Andover Township official in question was a witness -- and it did so nearly a month ago. 


Andover Township should have informed the Star-Ledger that what it reported was inaccurate (and made a lot of snarky remarks about "fact-checkers" and paying them).  Of course, the Star-Ledger would have argued that they got those documents slipped to them by someone from Andover Township, so why was the allegation there in the first place?   

Still,  Andover Township should have demanded that the Star-Ledger correct what it so obviously believes to be untrue.  Instead, Andover Township has once again contradicted itself at the top of its lungs.  It's like issuing a press release and then a rebuttal to your own release.  Ouch!