Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Free Speech, Free Country, and How One City Councilman Views it

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - David Stoltzfus says there’s only one reason he would take down the photos of President George W. Bush that he has displayed at his Central Market baked-goods stand.

Bush would have had to have lost the recent election. Instead, he beat Democratic challenger John Kerry to win a second term.

“If it were Kerry that won, he’d be up there,’’ says Stoltzfus, who operates the Upper Crust stand.

Doesn’t matter, says City Councilman Nelson Polite. “It should come down. This is a public market.”

Besides, says the Democrat, “Bush didn’t win here (in Lancaster City). It is like rubbing salt on a wound.”

Polite approached Stoltzfus on Nov. 12 and ask him to remove the pictures. The standholder has refused to do so, prompting Polite to say he will ask City Council to change the law so that all political items would be banned in public places.

Today, Stoltzfus pointed proudly to a photo of a smiling Bush, framed in green, that hangs above his stand.

The photo, attached to the stand portico with four brass screws, has hung there for nearly two years, since Stoltzfus and his wife, Nina, opened the market stand in March 2003.

They sell cakes, cookies and other baked items.

They also have a signed 8-by-10-inch photo of the president and first lady Laura Bush sitting on a shelf below, “right next to the pictures of my grandkids,’’ says Stoltzfus.

“I’m just trying to sell a few cakes and give honor to the president,’’ he says.

But Polite, a Democrat, says the photos should go.

When he approached Stoltzfus three weeks ago, he said the photo offended him and city Democrats.

Polite says he had received complaints from constituents who thought the photos were inappropriate, especially after the presidential election.

The market is public property and displaying political paraphernalia, no matter what the intent, says Polite, is inappropriate and divisive.

Stoltzfus is a Republican, but that hardly matters, he says. He displays the photo to honor the office, not the man.

Polite says political items do not belong in Central Market and if Stoltzfus refuses to take down the photos, he’ll take the matter before City Council to get the city law changed to ban all political items in public places.

“There should be rules,’’ says Polite.

Even if Kerry had won, he’d be asking Stoltzfus to take the photos down, says Polite.

A string of supporters, including Republican Mayor Charlie Smithgall and former Republican Mayor Art Morris, have made their way to the Upper Crust to offer their support to Stoltzfus.

“We have no regulations against it,” says Smithgall. “He is the president of the United States. If he wants to put a picture of (Democratic) Gov. Rendell up, that’s fine by me.”

Smithgall said Stoltzfus asked for a picture of him to hang up.

“I said, ‘Yeah, right.’”

Some of Stoltzfus’ fellow standholders are considering putting up photos of Bush in solidarity with Stoltzfus.

Kim Moyer, at the Lancaster Juice Company, says Polite was “out of line.”

“(Stoltzfus) has every right to put the pictures up. We pays rent here. Anyway, we’re in America.”

Market Master Ernie Thomas said there are no rules about hanging political items at market stands.

Even if there was, says Thomas, “That is our president, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican.”

Jim Zink, the owner of the Herb Shop stand, says he is a Democrat. But he’ll hang a photo of Bush to support Stoltzfus’ right to hang his.

“He has every right to hang it,’’ Zink says of Stoltzfus. He says it doesn’t offend him as a Democrat to see Bush.

I think the councilman needs to rethink what he said. Ban political items in public spaces? That is sort of against the first amendment. There is something guaranteed in America called freedom of speech that included political views, too.

If you would like to let him know about how you think it looks like for an city official to try to curtail freedom of political speech, you can write him here:

Mr. Nelson M. Polite

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