During the September 23 meeting of the Bennington Select Board an order was given to pull the plug. Given the order, CAT-TV immediately obeyed. Video and audio of the live broadcast suddenly disappeared from thousands of television screens. This occurred during an enthusiastic discussion between a citizen and a member of the select board.
In complete disclosure, I am a fan of CAT-TV. Community television is one of Bennington’s most important assets. CAT-TV is the stronghold of the First Amendment in Bennington. This is especially important in a state where the First Amendment has been quietly under attack for years. CAT-TV should never be silenced -- not even for a few minutes.
Evidence of the erosion of free speech is often seen during election time.
Photos of Dennis Steele being arrested are available on the Internet. Steele was a candidate for governor. He was arrested because he wanted to participate in a political debate. Another candidate, Peter Diamondstone, was arrested at the Vermont Law School. He also wanted to participate in a debate.
When a book is banned by a library, or when a candidate is not allowed to participate in a debate it is often "under the radar." Citizens are never told. Libraries do not post lists of books they ban. People do not know, what they don’t know. These are the unknown unknowns. If more citizens knew that their Constitutional rights have been compromised, they would react. Newspapers and other privately owned companies have the legal right to publish or not publish anything they want. Public tax supported schools and libraries have a higher obligation to honor free speech -- especially political speech.
The banning of political books by a public tax supported library is a violation of the First Amendment. Legal experts and Constitutional lawyers can game the system by arguing that the Amendment only restricts the federal government. That can be debated, but the spirit of the First Amendment is very clear. It should be honored.
Instead of pulling the plug on CAT-TV, the plug should be pulled on the funding of any organization or library that suppresses free speech or prohibits the right to read. The chipping away at the First Amendment has a chilling effect on the democratic process and discourages citizen participation.
How ironic, this most recent attack on the First Amendment occurred during Banned Book Week.