Give Speech A Chance

by Joseph Matheny on July 5, 2008

Rev. Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping

Give Speech A Chance


The Reverend Billy looking on as gatherers read the first amendment at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, NYC July 4th 2008

It was time for a “Bill-of-Rights-allujiah” from the self proclaimed “Church of the 1st Amendment,” with Reverend Billy and members of the Church of Stop Shopping who gathered in Central Park on July 4th in new York to celebrate the Constitution. Special guest at the event was Norman Siegel a New York City attorney and former director of the NYCLU who is running for public advocate. Siegel is the reverend’s own lawyer and he also represented protesters who were detained during the 2004 national convention.

A year ago The Reverend was arrested at a similar event on June 29th 2007 in Union Square Park in New York.

Charges were eventually dropped.

“We were able to defend him,” Said Siegel at the July 4th event, stating that the group is suing NYC for violating the Rev’s first amendment rights. Any money from the suit, Seigel said, is going into a 1st amendment defense fund for others who are illegally arrested for free speech and don’t have resources to fight the legal system.

Union Square Park was named a national historical sight in 1997, because it was the home to the first Labor Day parade and is historically a place citizens can gather:

“The grounds of Union Square have frequently served as a choice location for public meetings, including parades, labor protests, political rallies…”


The city is currently under scrutiny from the Reverend in relationship to Union Square because the pavilion located on the north side of the park is being turned into a restaurant.

Billy stated Friday before the crowd that the Church of Stop Shopping are “fundamentalists against fundamentalism,” and “we have zero tolerance against one thing and that’s zero tolerance.” and thanked Savati D, His wife, and Queen in the recent mermaid parade in Coney Island.

The couple was nominated as King Neptune and Queen Mermaid of the parade this year to celebrate their efforts to preserve old Coney Island. The city has plans to develop the area with a modern amusement park and hotels hoping it will be a tourist destination instead of a historical local favorite and internationally recognized Svarti, who joined the crowd in Central Park on Friday, starved herself before this year’s parade in protest of the development.

On his website the Reverend urges individuals to voice their preference for saving the historical site to:

New York City Economic Development Corporation
Attention: Rachel Belsky, Vice-President
110 William Street
New York, New York 10038

Norman Siegel (left) Reverend Billy (center) a member of the Stop Shopping Choir sing about the constitution with members of code pink and the Granny Peace Brigade

State Senator Bill Perkins was present at the event and read from Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution “Congress shall declare war.” Siegel responded “Since World War II congress has never carried out its responsibility under Section 8.” “Congress has been delinquent in its responsibility,” and “Unless I missed it congress hasn’t declared war on Iraq.”

Senator Perkins said “You didn’t hear it from me you heard it from the constitution,” stating that “It goes to show how illegal this war is.”

Other issues addressed were the differentiation between individuals and militias bearing arms as it’s stated in the constitution. Siegel also stated that requiring government issued ids at the time of voting “is a set back many, many years on the issue of the right to vote.” He also sited that currently in the city many programs have lost their funding “HIV Outreach: Eliminated…Hepitias C public education, Rapid HIV testing.” He mentioned the over 100,000 people living in NYC with HIV and that this creates “life and death possibilities for these people.”

revbillypreaches.jpgThe gatherers cheered to toast the reinstatement of alcohol consumption and suffrage for women Siegel calling it “un, you know, believable,” mentioning that “more than half of [the crowd] are women.”

In closing he hoped “that we make the document alive.” “Remember: Stamina, stamina.” He said that like Martin Luther King used to say “We shall overcome,” and “keep the faith,” and said he hopes the gatherers meet at the park every July 4th and that for those not living in NYC to “replicate this in your community.” “As the T-shirts say ‘We will not be silent.’” “We have not a right, but an obligation to speak up.”

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