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Man's arrest at board of education meeting just plain wrong [Editorial]

A week later, it may seem like an unnecessary pile-on to be critical of a recent incident at a Baltimore County Board of Education meeting in which a man was arrested after he spoke out of turn during a meeting on school system curriculum.

Sure, we all know people have Constitutional rights to petition the government and to freedom of speech and, in this case, it seems pretty clear a government entity was suppressing those rights. But can't we just move on?

No. Actually just moving on is kind of the problem. The importance of this incident is hard to understate in a free society.

Week in and week out, people stay away from government meetings in droves. Watch C-Span and you'll see Congressmen addressing empty chambers. Visit a session of the Maryland General Assembly and you'll be one of the few people in the building who isn't paid to be there. Attend a meeting of the Bel Air Town Commissioners, the Harford County Council or the Board of Education, and, once the proclamations are given to honor members of the community, the crowd thins out to staff and a few regulars.

When hot button issues come up, the natural inclination is to try to move the process along by coordinating people who want to speak; this is what appears to have happened in Baltimore County.

Moving the process along, however, is not why we have elected legislatures, boards and councils. These government organs exist to ensure new regulations get a reasonable vetting. That so few people show up so often for government sessions is an indication that, at least on some level, the system works pretty well.

But when people show up to complain, regardless of whether they follow the procedures, it is not time to move the process along. It's time to stop and listen. It really should be unthinkable that someone who speaks out without being belligerent or violent should be removed from the session and arrested.

Elsewhere on this page, Harford County Board of Education Vice President Rick Grambo also chastises those who ordered the arrest and makes a call for a public apology to the man by the offending officials.

In this case, such an apology is the least they can do.

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