Should advocating for animal rights in a public park get you arrested? As divided as our country is these days, you’d think even liberals and conservatives alike could agree that the answer to this question ought to be a resounding “no.”
But that’s exactly what happened.
Back in summer 2022, two animal rights activists, Daraius Dubash and Dr. Faraz Harsini, visited “Discovery Green,” a public park in Houston, Texas. Each time, they brought screens and played films depicting what they consider the mistreatment of animals and spoke with people who came up to them. On multiple occasions, they were asked to leave.
The final time they refused, correctly informing park authorities that, “You still have to abide by the First Amendment because [the park] is publicly owned.” Yet the authorities didn’t take “no” for an answer, instead arguing, incorrectly, ““Right. But we also choose, [and] we don’t feel the content is appropriate.”
Things escalated dramatically when the park officials called in the Houston police. According to the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), “the officers still arrested Daraius [Dubash] and handcuffed him in a chair in the park security office for more than two hours until he was taken to the county jail and charged with criminal trespass. The district attorney dismissed the charge.”
The incident was captured on video:
This was an obvious violation of their rights. Thankfully, the two activists are now suing Discovery Green Conservancy, the city of Houston, and the Houston Police Department, in conjunction with FIRE and the Law & Religion Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.
“It’s highly hypocritical and discriminatory to allow certain groups to exercise free speech but not us,” Dubash said. “We’re seeking a ruling affirming that no one — whether the police or park management — can ban people from peaceful expression in a public park like Discovery Green.”
“No one should be handcuffed and detained for exercising his First Amendment rights,” said FIRE attorney JT Morris. “We’re suing because public parks belong to all Americans and their expressive rights, not the personal views of a few.”
Whether you agree with their message or not, we should all be rooting for these activists’ ultimate success. There are few things more fundamentally un-American than the government picking and choosing which ideas are allowed to be expressed in public. And while it might be someone you disagree with today, tomorrow it could be your allies—or even you—that gets their speech suppressed if this abuse is allowed to stand.