'First Amendment Cop' Stands Up for Protesters

By Andrew Lu on November 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a video that's gone viral, so-called "First Amendment cop" Stan Lenic lays down the (constitutional) law as protesters and airport officials argue over the right to hand out fliers.

The video shows a protester handing out fliers to passengers at the Albany International Airport in New York. She warns them of the health risks of going through full-body scanners and reminds them of their right to opt out, reports Albany's WNYT-TV.

Then the airport's public relations guru Doug Myers approaches. He tells the young woman to turn off the camera and leave the area.

Enter the "First Amendment cop" (actually, Sheriff's Deputy Lenic), who looks like he's going to back up Myers' cause. But what Lenic does next has made him a hero for free-speech advocates around the Internet.

Lenic steps in to separate the two groups. But instead of automatically backing the airport spokesman, he gives a somewhat fair constitutional law lesson, reports WNYT.

Lenic tells the protesters that they're not breaking any laws. Myers objects and tells the protesters that they can't be upstairs by the security checkpoint. But again, Lenic defends the First Amendment rights of the protesters.

You can see the viral video here:

What makes the video so compelling isn't so much the accuracy of Lenic's statements (because it's not entirely clear if the protesters have a First Amendment right to stand right by the security checkpoint), but rather that the sheriff's deputy didn't automatically side with "the man."

In fact, while it may be true that individuals have a First Amendment right to voice their opinions and pass out fliers, there are some limits to free speech. For example, a law may impinge upon First Amendment rights if there's a compelling government interest at stake (such as, arguably, airport security) and the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

It's arguable that Myers may have been correct, and that the protesters had no business being near the security checkpoints. But Lenic had a different understanding of the law and let his voice be heard.

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