A few years ago, the Payson Town Council became concerned about freedom of speech and how to control it at various public venues in town. Most notably some councilors were concerned that without restrictions the gazebo at Green Valley Park would serve as an attractant for what former mayor Ray Schum referred to as "every wacko left-winger from the Valley" to spread Poison in Payson.
Right here in River City. With a capital "P" no less.
Fast forward to the present -- past 9-11, homeland security and the war in Iraq -- and Payson experiences yet another assault on our political sensibilities.
Only this time we're attacked from the right -- by a man of God, no less. Enter Dan Green, pastor of Potter's House Christian Fellowship Church.
In an attempt to draw a little attention to his fledgling church and perhaps do some good at the same time, Green proposes to hold a series of Friday youth movie nights at Rumsey Park's Ramada 5 -- right next to the skate park where young people gather nightly.
Your Parks and Recreation Department first grants, then revokes the permit Green needs.
Seems a section of the town code relating to use of park facilities prohibits religious ceremonies and "continuous use" religious services or political activities. But two pages later another section allows "continuous use of facilities by clubs or enterprises."
Green is Perplexed, with a capital "P".
"So if you're the Boy Scouts, I guess they're a club so no problem," he said. "We're a church; we're going to get denied."
Give a preacher a pulpit and you've got a Problem. Yes, with a capital "P".
Green takes his case to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative watchdog organization, and to a council meeting.
"What if the Salvation Army or the American Red Cross or the YMCA, which are all Christian outreach ministries, were silenced in their birthing stages?" Green asked the council. "Who would want to deny the sick or the ill a physician. I am offering a helping Christian hand to the troubled youth of this community, but I am denied."
Good stuff, don't you think? The town apparently did because it quickly Punted, again with a capital "P", and revised town code to fix the problem. End of story.
Except that all good stories have a moral, and we'd like to add one here. The principle upon which our nation was founded is a fundamental guarantee to think whatever you like and believe whatever you want as long as you don't infringe on the rights of others.
It doesn't matter what the majority believes. It doesn't matter that a group of terrorists managed to topple the twin towers. It doesn't even matter if you think Harry Potter was inspired by the devil himself.
We all give lip service to liberty, but sometimes in our rush to judgment and all the other places we have to go these days, we don't really think about what it means -- or that it applies to the other guy too.
As we approach this Memorial Day weekend, a time when we honor those who have defended our country, we would do well to remember that nothing -- nothing at all -- must be allowed to stifle our freedom of expression. It's Precious, and that's a great big capital "P".