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Kindly Curb Your French Professor FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 22, 2007

Free speech advocates, break out the champagne – or maybe the Lysol.  On May 23rd, a Weld County, Colorado jury acquitted retired University of Northern Colorado French professor Kathleen Yvonne Ensz of the misdemeanor charge of using a “noxious substance” to deprive another woman of the “use and enjoyment” of her property, the jury having been persuaded that Professor Ensz’s act was not a crime, but Constitutionally protected free speech.

The “noxious substance” that Madame, an expert in la langue de la diplomatie, and 12 other Colorado citizens considered worthy of First Amendment protection was a sample of droppings from Ensz’s German shepherd.


In May, 2006, Ensz, aged 63, was outraged to find in her mail, tucked in among the bills and the latest issue of Dog Fancy, a bulk-mail constituent newsletter from Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. This launched Ensz into a fury:  how dare Musgrave, a Republican, send such a glossy newsletter to her constituents? Even more, how dare she send one to Madame, the reigning Vice Chairwoman of Senate District 13, of the Weld County Democrats!


The outraged professor seized the occasion, and her German shepherd’s waste products, to communicate her displeasure.  She wrapped the doggy detritus in the brochure, and deposited the unlovely package at Congresswoman Musgrave’s office.


This being a post-9/11 world, and Musgrave having been the recipient of death threats sufficiently serious to warrant her receiving Secret Service protection, her staff alerted the authorities upon discovering an anonymously delivered, odiferous package with most of its original address label scribbled over with black magic marker.  When the package was opened, and its contents construed as peculiar and a tad hostile, the police were dispatched to Ensz’s home. Less adept with a magic marker than with the passé composé, apparently, Ensz had failed to obscure her nine-digit zip code from the label on Musgrave’s mailing, and was readily identified as the sender of this curious missive.


With the cops at the door and the jig clearly up, most adults would regain their composure, ‘fess up, and offer to pay to clean up the mess they’d petulantly created.


But we’re talking about a retired, female Professor Emeritus, who clearly considers herself an intellectual aristocrat among the Greeley peasantry, a sort of Empress Dowager not subject to the same laws as contain the little people.  Ensz’s diction and tone suggest that she is accustomed to pulling nasty stunts like this, without ever being held to account for her actions.  Indeed, one rather suspects that, upon Madame’s retirement from the University of Northern Colorado -- in 2000, at the curiously young age of 57 -- one could hear the festive clink of glassware in her colleagues’ offices across the campus, well into the night.


Ensz was thus astonished, when the police showed up.  She admitted depositing the noxious substance at Musgrave’s office, but insisted she had committed no crime.  Her intent was political protest, she asserted, and her speech-act was subject to Constitutional protections.


Reluctant to waste public funds trying a misdemeanor, the prosecutors offered Ensz a plea bargain, but she would have none of it.  Eager to lambaste a politician from the opposition party, Ensz demanded public funds be spent on a trial.  Ensz thus forced the state to pay for a forum from which she might pontificate before a captive audience, who, by force of law, had to listen to her.  It was almost as good as being a Professor again.


At her trial, Ensz depicted herself as the victim of a “political vendetta.”  The charges were “frivolous” and “politically motivated”, brought by Weld County Republican Machiavels determined to deprive her of her First Amendment rights:  "People used the power of the government and concocted stories, aiming for a citizen who's making a very simple personal protest," she complained.


Absurd though it may sound to consider dog droppings a kind of political speech, that was defense mounted by Ensz’s attorney, Patricia Bangert, who argued this as a First Amendment case.  Bangert presented as evidence “Mr. Hankey,” a talking piece of excrement from the animated comedy show South Park, as proof that fecal matter has become an accepted fusion of medium and message in modern American culture.  "Etiquette and propriety aside,” Bangert argued, “it is commonplace in today's society to equate a distasteful or disliked person, situation or thing to feces."


“By their fruits, ye shall know them,” we are told.  Bangert’s First Amendment defense proved successful, and dog’s droppings were officially recognized as the equivalent of the professor’s speech, an assessment we see no reason to dispute.  Ensz and her attorney are now, reportedly, considering filing civil suit against Weld County and against Congresswoman Musgrave.


Although Bangert won the case, her argument rested on a misinterpretation of South Park in general and Mr. Hankey in particular. Mr. Hankey is not a “distasteful or disliked person,” but, rather, a strongly positive character, the defender of the Christmas spirit.  Unless she has an exceedingly dry sense of humor, Bangert’s misinterpretation suggests that she is unaware that South Park (which, incidentally, is set in Colorado)  satirizes self-righteous, elitist liberals of the sort for which Ensz could be Poster Child.  Among those taken to task on South Park are liberals who use the court system to promote their personal agendas by intimidating those holding different views.  As Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Brian C. Anderson observes in South Park Conservatives:  The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias, the show articulates a “post-liberal or anti-liberal counterculture.”  One can easily imagine Trey Parker and Matt Stone using Ensz’s story as the basis for an episode of South Park.


The abuse of our court system as a means of intimidating others is, unfortunately, not confined to retired academics. Organizations across the U.S. are filing lawsuits against those who express opinions they disapprove of, or raise questions they don’t want asked, concerning Muslims.  The National Review, the David Project, and North Carolina Representative Cass Ballenger, for example, have all been the targets of such suits.


And now these attempts at intimidation are targeting ordinary citizens. The Saudi-funded Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently filed suit on behalf of the “Flying Imams,” who were removed from a Minneapolis USAirways flight after engaging in ostentatiously suspicious behavior.  In addition to suing the airline, CAIR is going after the passengers who voiced their fears to airline personnel.  Currently identified only as “John Does,” if CAIR has its way, the identities of these six people will be made public, and they will be forced to pay civil penalties. Ordinary citizens, which in this case include an elderly couple, could be dragged into court, smeared, and bankrupted, merely for reporting to authorities that they were afraid.


We seem, nowadays, to need lawyers to conduct even the ordinary activities of daily life.  People from all walks of life who, a generation ago, could have solved their problems on their own, now find it impossible to do so without an attorney. Consider the following observation made to ABC News, in 2000:  “In the 1960s, if you ripped us off like that, we’d bust your head.  But these days, we need lawyers  . . . We can’t reach the corporate types . . . You could go to a building, beat up a security guard, but what’s the point?  You never get to the suits who rip us off.  We need lawyers.”  Thus Ralph “Sonny” Barger, a founder of the Hell’s Angels, explained why a motorcycle gang notorious for setting disputes with violence, was hiring lawyers to prevent the unauthorized exploitation of their image.


Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, recently introduced legislation that would protect travelers and commuters against what has been called “jihad-by-lawsuit,” retaliatory litigation against citizens who report to authorities behavior they consider suspicious.  Rep. King’s amendment recognizes that, as Frank Zappa once observed, “All our rights and freedoms are more or less based on adequate financing.”  The amendment passed in the House, 304 to 121, and now it remains to the Senate to pass it.


Given Professor Ensz’s recent legal victory and the depth of her unhappiness with Colorado Republicans, she may feel compelled to contact Colorado Senator A. Wayne Allard regarding this or other bills.  Happily, Senator Allard, a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, is a veterinarian by trade, and is thus unlikely to be unduly discommoded, should Professor Ensz decide to mail him her ‘thoughts.’


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