With the right-to-work issue promising to bring numerous and voluminous protests this legislative session, limits have been set on how many people can protest at the Indiana Statehouse, the seat of power for the people's government. Limits are sensible indoors, but make them as liberal as possible. Outside, there should be no limits.
No building should have more people admitted than the fire marshal deems safe for a timely evacuation of the building in the event of a fire. Nor should there be so many people inside the Statehouse that the people's business — the governing of Indiana — cannot be conducted. Lawmakers and others need to be able to pass through hallways to get to meeting rooms, offices and restrooms.
The state fire marshal determined the building safely could hold 3,000 people, and with 1,700 employees that leaves just 1,300 members of the public allowed in the 123-year-old building.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell announced the new limit as part of a new set of security policies at the Statehouse. Protesters are not allowed to carry protest signs on wooden stakes inside the building, for example, because of the fear that the stakes could be used as weapons.
The restrictions come as the General Assembly is poised to start discussion of the controversial right-to-work legislation that has organized labor riled up. Last year saw two months of daily protests by union members.
Whitesell's order is aimed at keeping the stairways and hallways clear, except for small gatherings outside the House and Senate chambers on the third floor.
Keeping the stairways clear should be a no-brainer. Allowing people to pass through hallways also should be the aim of any reasonable person. However, the people who want to interact with the lawmakers they elected should be allowed to do so.
Police Superintendent Whitesell's order restricts outdoor protests to the south lawn. Keep people off the steps, sidewalks and streets, but otherwise there should be no limits on where these protests may take place.
This free speech is the essence of democracy and should not be subject to unreasonable restrictions.
Whitesell and others should remember Article 1, Section 31, of the Indiana Constitution, which reads, "No law shall restrain any of the inhabitants of the State from assembling together in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; nor from instructing their representatives; nor from applying to the General Assembly for redress of grievances."
Give the people the chance to speak their minds safely. It's their government, after all.