Like many other Americans, I was brought up on the notion that one of the fundamental principles of America is the right to freedom of speech, even — perhaps especially — the right to publicly criticize the government. And on the converse notion that any society or form of government that does not allow public criticism of the government is unjust, illegitimate, and usually totalitarian. Which of course includes monarchism, communism, fascism, as practiced in, for example, Sparta, pre-reform Britain, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and … New Jersey?
Yes, totalitarianism might be on the march in New Jersey. It seems that a certain individual in New Jersey decided to criticize the government of New Jersey, and certain officials of that government are threatening to take legal action against him. William Juliano was denied permission to build on some land he owns (and paid a lot of money for), and he put up a billboard criticizing the government agency that denied him permission. As Geoff Mulville of the AP reports:
PENNSVILLE, N.J. (AP) – Rather than simply welcoming drivers to the Garden State, a new billboard greeting people entering New Jersey over the Delaware Memorial Bridge slams the state’s business climate.
“Welcome to New Jersey. A horrible place to do business,” reads the billboard message.
The glaring, red capital letters represent the revenge – misguided, according to officials – of a developer upset with the state’s environmental regulators.
A previous owner received state approval for the truck stop in 1985. But the state now says the land is in a wetlands area and is unsuitable for either a truck stop or a Home Depot, which Juliano proposed building there last year.
Juliano says not being allowed to build what he wants is a symptom of bigger problems. He says the DEP has a staffer in charged of “delaying, hindering and, in general, causing havoc with their permitting process.” Other developers are leaving New Jersey because of the issue, Juliano said.
“At some point, we’ll have to consider action against him,” [Environmental Protection chief Bradley] Campbell said, implying a potential legal fight.
Juliano believes the refusal to let him build is a violation of his civil rights. The state, he says, is taking his property rights without paying him.
Attorney Ronald Coleman, on whose blog I found this story and who has helped some bloggers protect their free-speech rights, wasn’t pulling any punches:
WHAT? Has the FEC chipped off some of its expression-regulation power to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection now? It’s not an entirely irrelevant question, because the news stories indicate that the businessman in question is feeling out governor-in-waiting Senator John Corzine about the issue. And it’s not like it’s Internet speech, so let the prior restraining begin!