A rather fluid first amendment controversy is brewing over police conduct at the Yankee stadium. Fan Brad Campeau-Laurion says that when he tried to go to the bathroom during the singing of “God Bless America,” he was roughed up a bit and then thrown out of the stadium. It appears that this has been a long complaint by fans over a sing-or-get-out policy by George Steinbrenner.
Campeau-Laurion recounts an encounter during the seventh inning stretch in the Yankees-Red Sox game. “God Bless America” was playing when nature called. An officer allegedly told him, however, that he could not leave even on such an urgent matter because he had to sing or at least listen to the song. When Campeau-Laurion said that he didn’t care about “God Bless America” right now, the officer allegedly twisted his arm behind him and eventually with the help of another officer tossed him out.
Here is his account:
As I attempted to walk down the aisle and exit my section into the tunnel, I was stopped by a police officer. He informed me that I had to wait until the song was over. I responded that I had to use the restroom and that I did not care about God Bless America.
“As soon as the latter came out of my mouth, my right arm was twisted violently behind my back and I was informed that I was being escorted out of the stadium. A second officer then joined in and twisted my left arm, also in an excessively forceful manner, behind my back. I informed them they were violating my First Amendment rights and that I had done nothing wrong, with no response from them.
“I was sitting in the Tier Level, and of course this is the highest level of the stadium and I was escorted in this painful manner down the entire length of the stadium. About halfway down, I informed them that they were hurting me, repeated that I had done nothing wrong, and that I was not resisting nor talking back to them. One of them said something to the effect that if I continued to speak, he would find a way to hurt me more.
“When we reached the exit of the stadium, they confiscated my ticket and the first officer shoved me through the turnstiles, saying ‘Get the hell out of my country if you don’t like it.'”
This would appear facially ridiculous except for the fact that others have apparently objected to the same policy and treatment. The subject is an atheist who, for obvious reasons, is not a fan of the song. To make matters worse, he was reportedly an atheist Red Sox fan.
The New York Times wrote about the policy which Steinbrenner said was the result of citizens complaining that people were moving about during the singing of “God Bless America, here. The security guards are off-duty police officers.
Of course for an atheist at the limit of his bladder, singing about “To the oceans, white with foam” can be excruciating. It does present in interesting legal issue. While these are police officer, they are off-duty. This is, therefore, a private action and not governmental action under the first amendment. Without state action, the constitutional question is difficult to raise. There remains tort and statutory options, however.
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