Rep. John Lewis Asserts the Right to Dissent

GOP Creates Rule to 'Muzzle' Objections

Congressman John Lewis was among a large group of Democrats who participated in a sit-in last year on the Floor to express their discontent with continued Republican efforts to delay and block legislation aimed at gun control. (Courtesy photo)

The right to reasonably and peacefully dissent has long been one of our country’s most guarded and fundamental ways of life.

But now it appears that House Republicans want to control what the means by which other members of Congress object to questionable legislation. And so a new battle has begun — and on the very day of the new Congress with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) leading the way.

“We have a right to dissent,” said the civil rights icon during his recent speech as he urged the House to reject a new rule that would hamper efforts by members of Congress, primarily Democrats in this instance, to live-stream from the House floor, take still photographs and record audio and video.

The rule allows for House members to be fined up to $2,500 should they violate the new rule.

Some see the rule as a response to the sit-in Democrats held last year in efforts to pressure Republicans to vote on gun control legislation. When the GOP leaders had the official cameras shut down, the Democrats turned to social media, live-streaming their actions from their phones.

Lewis, an integral force behind the sit-in last summer, stated that fines will not deter him from his duty to speak out if the House of Representatives takes actions that fail to reflect the will of the American people.

“We have the right to protest for what is right,” Lewis further said. “Regardless of rule or no rule, we cannot and will not be silenced.”

A spokesperson for the Republican House leadership, in an interview with a reporter for Mother Jones, said the creation of the rule was meant to “ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.”

But in a statement released in late December when the fine was first proposed, several Democrats, including senior Congressman John Conyers from Michigan, referred to the GOP effort as an “unconstitutional gag rule” of “unprecedented” proportions.

The statement went on to say that they saw the rule as a means to “undermine the rights of members in the Minority to freely express their views on the House floor, which is a critical means by which Members communicate to the American public.”

“It is particularly egregious that such a controversial and potentially unlawful change is being implemented in the complete absence of hearings or input from legal experts, let alone the Minority,” Conyers and his colleagues conclude.

After some debate and in a response to the sharp criticisms of the Democratic leaders, Republicans revised the proposal to allow members of Congress to appeal the  fine to the House Ethics Committee.

Still, it remains to be seen if the rule will even stand up in court when challenged for its legality.

One member of Congress and an ardent supporter and leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus called for the elimination of the rule noting the importance of more, not less, transparency.

“Freedom of speech is one of our nation’s most sacred tenets,” said Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.). “Levying fines on members in response to our sitting in and speaking out on gun violence, an issue about which we are extremely passionate and that has so adversely affected too many of our communities, goes against the very spirit of what it means to live in the land of the brave and the free. This is the ‘people’s house.’ Threatening to fine us is an attempt to suppress our ability to exercise freedom of expression that in turn suppresses the voices of the very people who sent us to Washington to advocate on their behalf.

“I have built a career on being a voice for the voiceless,” Wilson said. “There are many battles to come — from saving Obamacare to passing sensible immigration and gun control measures. This is not the time to be silent and we will continue to do whatever we must to be heard.”

About D. Kevin McNeir – Washington Informer Editor 114 Articles

Award-winning journalist, book editor, voice-over specialist and author with 17 years in the industry. Currently an education and religion beat reporter for The Washington Informer. But I also tackle local (D.C. and Maryland) politics, entertainment, business and health articles to maintain my edge.

Born and raised in Motown and a staunch Wolverine – that is a graduate of the University of Michigan, I left corporate America (IBM) to pursue my passion for writing, accepting a beat reporter’s gig under the tutelage of the late Sam Logan, founding publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. I continued to hone my craft at N’DIGO Magapaper, Windy City Times and The Wednesday Journal, all in Chicagoland; the Atlanta Voice and The Miami Times. I’ve been fortunate to be chosen twice as the Feature Writer of the Year by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists. Later, as the senior editor of one of the country’s oldest Black-owned newspapers, The Miami Times, I helped my staff bring home the NNPA’s highest honor – Publication of the Year, 2001. That same year I picked up first and second place awards for news and feature writing, respectively, also from the NNPA.

Today I’m based in the nation’s capital where I’m honored to serve as the editor for The Washington Informer. Recognizing the importance of education, I’ve earned two master’s degrees from Emory University, Summa Cum Laude and Princeton Theological Seminary, majoring in theology and philosophy.

If I can slow down, I may actually complete and publish a collection of essays I’ve been working on for many years, “Growing up Motown,” sharing childhood memories of experiences with musical legends like Marvin Gaye, Kim Weston, the Four Tops, the Miracles, Gladys Knight and Take Six. My favorite foods: spinach, lasagna, pancakes and Oysters Rockefeller. My mom, 86, always my “best friend” and “cheerleader,” now lives with me and she brings me great joy. I’m a fiercely protective yet encouraging father and grandfather always down for traveling, shopping or celebrating the natural beauty of God’s world. I live by the following words: “Less is more” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

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