The following is a guest post by Craig McDonald
Today, I want to talk about Mountain Grove, Missouri.
“Wait a second,” I hear you ask. “Where the heck is Mountain Grove, Missouri?” I’m glad you asked me that.
I had to search for it myself. It turns out that Mountain Grove is a tiny town, just 79 miles east of my house. A hamlet of just under 5,000 citizens, it has a quite modest police force consisting of eleven total officers. On November 4th, they felt obliged to announce via their Facebook page that a private citizen had donated “in god we trust” decals for their patrol cars, and they dutifully placed them onto the vehicles without a second thought. When I discovered this, I (naturally) felt compelled to politely remind the Mountain Grove Police Department (via their Facebook page, which is listed as: “Government Organization – Police Station”) of their obligation to uphold the constitution of the United States. I was impressed to find that my comment was not the first in opposition that appeared on their page reminding them of this.
My comment was met with the (by now) expected objections from the Christian residents of Mountain Grove. I received a variety of insipid and vapid comments ranging from “you’re not even from here, so why does it bother you?” and “just don’t look if it bothers you,” to the disturbingly historically ignorant “it’s on our money, so, get over it or just give all your money to me.” These arguments have never held much weight with me, and this discussion was no exception. The most egregious affront, however, was yet to come.
On November 7th, I checked back on their Facebook page to see if anything new had been said (as unlikely as that seemed, given my experiences arguing this issue on other pages). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that all of my comments on their government sponsored, official Facebook page were deleted, and I was unable to post or even “like” any comments. Yes, apparently the righteous police department of the fair village of Mountain Grove is incapable of even reading about differing opinions, even when those opinions are stated without any profanity or personal attacks. Now, to be fair, social media is not, in general, a place where the freedom of speech is absolute. Had this Facebook page been the personal page of the Police Chief, or of any of the eleven officers in Mountain Grove, they would, as an individual, have had the right to block anyone they didn’t want to hear from.
However, as was already decided in Hawaii, where a court settlement set the precedent that the social media pages of government officials and offices do NOT have the same freedom to block dissenting opinions that personal pages enjoy. Ironically, this is an extension of the limitation on freedom of expression that government entities have to accept with regard to religious beliefs. That is, the reason they cannot block me from their page is the same reason they cannot post religious symbols or mottoes on their taxpayer-funded police cruisers. The fact that they do not seem to comprehend the latter makes their misunderstanding of the former more understandable (but no less a violation of my first amendment rights).
I attempted to redress this issue with this government agency via email, only to find that the information they provided on their official website does not include a valid email address. So I placed a call to the number provided on the same site, attempting to obtain an accurate email. I was told by the receptionist that there is no central email address for the department, and each officer has his own unique address. Then she told me that the police chief would not be in until Monday, 11/9, and that I would have to call back to discuss the issue of the phantom email account then. Rest assured, he WILL be receiving a phone call from me on that date.
Ironically, even though nobody was available to address my concern about their Facebook page, the Mountain Grove Police Department found the time to post the following:
“We will not remove these stickers from our cars! Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. We proudly display our nation’s motto and ALWAYS will. “In God We Trust”
In the meantime, I encourage anyone within reach of this article to visit the Mountain Grove Police Department Facebook page (link below) to remind them that we know what our rights are, and that we will NOT be bullied into silence by backward-thinking bureaucrats afraid of reasonable, rational dissent.
Craig McDonald is an author and advocate for liberal values living in Springfield, Missouri. He is technically less than a year away from his bachelor’s degree in English Literature with a Linguistics minor (although he has been on a sabbatical from school for almost a decade) He published his first novel, KINDRED, in eBook format in 2014 (and is furiously working on the sequel—and 7 other novels in his increasingly sparse spare time). He has been a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, Civil rights and every other kind of human rights. He has been outspoken in opposition of rape culture, gun culture, and victim-blaming of all stripes. Since childhood, he has been deeply concerned with the separation of church and state, and has spoken out against public religious displays (e.g. the 10 Commandments) and the labeling of government property with the divisive motto, “in god we trust.”