A View from the Country
Al Holman, Publisher
October 21, 2011
On October 15 a Rosary Rally was being held across America. A group of Upton citizens went to the Upton Selectmen to ask for permission to hold a rally on the Upton Town Common that day. The Rosary Rally group did not ask the Selectmen to sponsor, provide materials, provide any resources for or for the town to be involved in any way. All the citizens needed from the Selectmen was a confirmation that the Upton Town Common was not previously scheduled for use on that day. (See the Letter to the Editor "Let Freedom Ring" on page 4 of this paper for more on this issue.)
Now, according to the United States Constitution:
Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
And according to the Massachusetts Constitution:
Article XIX. The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.
The response from the Selectmen was a simple "No" and the reason was given that they did not want to offend any taxpayers. I have read both the State Constitution and the Constitution of the United States and have yet to find where the right to assemble and free speech can be stopped by the possibility of offending taxpayers. The common is a public place and is owned by all the taxpayers and therefore is open to the public to assemble on. It should be noted that Upton has no by-law that requires a permit for public demonstrations or marches, and saying the Rosary would not seem to me an action that would incite a riot.
The separation of church and state is imperative and we should always protect against that from happening. Sometimes in the excitement of a celebration we cross that line, like at Christmas on the Common when the lights are lit. But that is a small transgression and is on that razor's edge and is minor at worst. This is only because the town sponsors and the fire department puts up the the lights which now makes it a government involved event. Or how about on Memorial Day, when prayers are said on the Common by local clergy after the parade. Another town sponsored event.
I believe that our Selectmen are excellent and are doing a good job. I believe that most of the time they make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the town of Upton. This being said, on this issue of a group of Christians saying the Rosary it is my opinion they missed the mark totally. I hope in the future that they try to follow the Constitution on Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Assembly to steer the decisions they make. It should also be pointed out that their constituents are not just the taxpayers but the owners of the Common.
And that's looking out my window ... wishing we all could just get along!