87-Year-Young Senior Citizen Builds New Personal-Sized Church–Ready For Weddings

Bill Alexander of Seguin, Texas stands at the front of his newly constructed “The Little Church.”

Verse 16:18 of the Book of Matthew found in the King James version of the Bible must have spoken very loudly to Seguin-area resident Bill Alexander, Jr. as he pondered building The Little Church off of U.S. Hwy. 90A near Geronimo Creek a short distance outside the city limits of Seguin.

The verse that may have struck a chord with the 87-year-old “retired” contractor reads:  “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Alexander doesn’t call himself a “preacher” or “reverend.”  He is a devout member of the First United Methodist Church in Seguin where he says “I feel very welcome by all of the good people there.”

But, he does “minister” to the needs of all-comers to his The Little Church.  “I built this church almost single-handedly.  I did need some help up on the roof.”  Alexander says that the church is his “contribution” to anyone who needs a peaceful, country place to pray, ponder and just let the worries of the world fade away.

“I had a couple the other day who wanted to get married in The Little Church.  They loved the church but were worried about their many guests fitting inside.”  said Alexander.

“The Little Church” in Seguin, Texas was bult amost singlehandedly by 87-year-old (Young!) Bill Alexander. Bill says “We’re ready for weddings.”

They have a point.  The church measures 10 ft. by 16 ft.  Just right for a “small” wedding. 

And one visit to the church will affirm that what the church lacks in size, it makes up with spirit.  Alexander noted “The spirit inside the church is very special.”

The inside of the “non-denominational” church is furnished with only the simplest of adornment.  Older Bibles sit on top of a small worship table in front of the centered podium.  Modest wooden benches are available for visitors.  A non-ornate wall-mounted simple cross captures the spiritual essence of the church as one sits quietly within its four walls.

View of inside “The Little Church.”

When asked what made him decide to build “The Little Church,” Alexander said “I’ve been thinking about it for many years.  Sort of drifted into it recently when I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger!”

A sign at the front outside of the church reads:  “The Little Church.  A memorial of the parents of Bill Alexander Jr. and Dora Evans.”

Alexander began construction work on the church on March 1, 2012 and finished on May 15, 2012.

A small collection of Bibles awaits the tired, the weary and the thankful.

Born and raised in Menard, Texas, Alexander served in the U.S. Navy as a radioman during World War II.  He served aboard a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) navy vessel in support of amphibious operations during the Battle of Guadalcanal and during fighting in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere throughout the war period.

Also, during the past “50 or so years,” Alexander has been a continuous adult volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America.  Only a couple of years ago, Alexander was a volunteer helping out during a week-long scout camp with Seguin’s American Legion H.U. Wood Post 245’s Boy Scout Troop at the Bear Creek Scout Reservation in Ingram, Texas.  And, most recently, he has assisted with the Boy Scout Crew #317 at Cross Church in Seguin.

Simple lessons from the Master viewed from the podium.

Being the consummate Boy Scout may have contributed to Alexander’s drive to begin and finish his The Little Church construction project using, primarily, his own two hands.

While explaining further the urgency to complete the building of the church, Alexander commented “You know that the Boy Scout motto is to ‘Be Prepared’ and the Boy Scout slogan is to ‘Do a good turn daily.’” 

He paused for a moment in reflection, and then said “That’s been a big part of my life.  It’s just a part of me now.”

Then he added, “This is my own way of being a witness for Jesus Christ.  The church is really dedicated to Him.”  His building of The Little Church seems to capture the spirit of both the Boy Scout’s motto and slogan.

To visit The Little Church, Alexander asks that you call him at 830-379-0144 to set up a time.  “I’m really very flexible regarding visits or even small weddings.  The Little Church is there to be of service to others.” Said Alexander.

By:  Survivaltimes Editor Bob Grafe

September 15, 2012

Here’s what some think about U.S. border safety today at the nation’s “most dangerous national park”

Dear Survivaltimes Guest:
  Just thought you might want to know what some of our nearby Arizona neighbors had on their minds today.
  Enjoy the read …
Bob Grafe
Editor & Columnist
Fighting drugs and border violence at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: What about the ranger’s M14 rifle, Yogi?
By Liz GoodwinNational Affairs Reporter

Ranger Ken Hires in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo News)

ORGAN PIPE CACTUS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. — On a hot desert morning last week, a group of 20 tourists gathered in the visitor center in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to attend a mandatory safety briefing before taking a guarded van tour to Quitobaquito springs. The springs is part of the 69 percent of the remote border park west of Tucson that has been closed to the public since Kris Eggle, a 28-year-old law enforcement park ranger, was shot and killed while pursuing drug runners armed with AK-47s in 2002.

Organ Pipe was named “the most dangerous national park” that year and also in 2003 by the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, before the group discontinued the series. The drastic increase of drug activity on Arizona’s southern border since the 1990s has turned Organ Pipe rangers into de factor Border Patrol agents, and spurred state lawmakers to pass several laws cracking down on illegal immigrants within the state.

Since 2009, the park has offered van tours to the springs, as long as rangers armed with assault rifles go along to protect the visitors. Now, ten years after Eggle’s murder, the park’s leadership has decided to open up a portion of the closed areas to the public in March, citing improved safety conditions and a big increase in Border Patrol agents in the area.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in Arizona, immigration has once again been a hotly contested topic in the state: Mitt Romney in a debate last week praised Arizona’s immigration laws as a “model” for the country, while President Obama’s Justice Department is suing Arizona to overturn one of those laws, called SB1070. The law–which has not gone into effect because of a federal court order–requires police to check a person’s immigration status during stops if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally. It also makes it a state crime to fail to carry immigration papers or for illegal immigrants to solicit work. Drug violence has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006, but spillover violence has so far been minimal in the United States. Still, Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona, falsely claimed that beheadings occurred in the Arizona desert in 2010, the same year she signed SB1070 into law. Arizona was also the first state to pass a mandatory E-Verify law in 2007, to ensure employers don’t hire illegal immigrants.

Brewer says the law will help police officers combat drug trafficking and crime, but critics say it will encourage racial profiling and interferes with federal control over immigration. Yahoo News went to Organ Pipe last week to witness the challenges of the border as the presidential candidates debate how best to control it.

‘They’ll have M14s at hand. Don’t be worried.’

“There is a chance we might have to cancel the tour if there’s some sort of apprehension in progress,” Park Ranger Karl Sommerhauser, wearing a bulky dark green bulletproof vest, told the tourists last week. Sommerhauser had an ear piece curling out of his left ear. “We expect you to take direction from Ken,” he said sternly.

Ken Hires, an unflaggingly cheerful park ranger dressed in reassuringly normal-looking tan ranger clothes, bounded to the front of the room. Hires is what’s called an interpretive ranger, which means he has no law enforcement duties and does not carry a weapon. (“I spent my five years in Vietnam. Enough shooting,” he said later.) Hires explained that some law enforcement officers would be hiding in the hills and closely watching the two-hour nature hike, while another pair of armed rangers would follow the tourists closely from the ground. “They’ll have M14s at hand,” he told the group. “Don’t be worried.”

“You might see something interesting off the trail, but please don’t go wandering off,” Hires continued, explaining that it made it difficult for the rangers to track people from the hills. “Please be respectful that those people are putting themselves on the line for us.”

As the group loaded into the vans, one woman from Idaho whispered to her husband: “Does it make you worried? They get chest protections, and we don’t get none of them.”

Hires, sitting in the passenger side of the van, began talking quickly into his radio to the rangers. He turned to the back and explained: “We operate this as if it were an incident.”

“You say there was an incident out there?” a walrus-mustachioed passenger wearing a cowboy hat asked warily.

“We’re it,” Ken said, to nervous laughter.

‘There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe’

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 330,000-acre, surprisingly green stretch of Sonoran desert populated by barrel, saguaro and organ pipe cacti, spans 30 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The park became a corridor for drug runners in the 1990s after border security tightened at major ports of entry and in urban areas, driving human and drug traffickers to rural crossings. Alan Bersin, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner until last year, admitted that the Tucson sector of the border was “out of control” until recently. In 2010, half of all border apprehensions and drug seizures occurred in the Tucson sector, which encompasses much of Organ Pipe.

Drug runners would cut across Mexican Highway 2 through Organ Pipe’s dirt roads in a car and then quickly hop onto U.S. Highway 85, which shoots up to Phoenix or Tucson. The vehicles blazed more than 200 miles of unauthorized roads through the park, and rangers found themselves in dangerous, high-speed chases nearly every day. An $18 million, 23-mile vehicle fence put up after Eggle’s murder by the Department of the Interior cut down on this vehicle traffic. Now, cartels have had to get smarter, sometimes cutting into the fence, removing it, driving through, and then putting it back together again. Drug runners also started coming more on foot, dropping their packages in designated spots on the highway for someone else to pick up.

The Department of Homeland Security recently put up nine surveillance towers in the park, making it easier for agents to detect this new foot traffic, so the drug runners are now hiding in the hills, where the towers can’t see them. (A Border Patrol helicopter operation last year in these hills netted 800 pounds of trash and a whole “herd” of people, according to Hires.) Border Patrol set up a check point on Highway 85 within the park in the past year, which has pushed drug traffickers to the neighboring Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Tohono O’odham reservation, adding as much as four days to their on-foot journeys. “They’re very adaptive, more so than us,” said Organ Pipe park superintendent Lee Baiza wearily, during an interview with Yahoo News last week.

Baiza said he spends about 80 percent of his time working with Homeland Security and handling border concerns. “There’s nothing normal about Organ Pipe,” he added.

The superintendent, who took over in 2007, has faced criticism for preventing Border Patrol agents from building new roads in the wilderness areas of the park, which is part of a larger struggle between Homeland Security and national park and land agencies that operate on the border. (More than 85 percent of border property in Arizona is federally owned.) Bob Bishop, a Republican representative from Utah, introduced a bill last year that would waive environmental laws up to 100 miles north of the border, freeing up Homeland Security to build roads through the wilderness to combat illegal immigration and drug running. Bishop criticized the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for preventing Border Patrol agents from driving off-road in the Quitobaquito area of the park because of a pond nearby that contains the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish.

“I may care about the pupfish, but I also care about kids getting hooked on illegal drugs that are coming over that border,” Bishop told Yahoo News. Drug runners cause more environmental damage to the border by leaving trash, he said, than Border Patrol agents would by building roads.

“Every congressman seems to have his own idea of what we’re doing wrong,” Baiza said. “The reality is all of that has improved immensely since 2007.”

Apprehensions in the park were down last month for the first time in three years, Baiza said. Border Patrol would not release park-specific data, but a spokesman, Jason Rheinfrank, said that the Tucson sector overall saw a 40 percent drop in apprehensions last fiscal year, while the number of agents has nearly tripled since 2000. Illegal crossing arrests over the entire border were at a four-decade low last fiscal year, in part because of the flagging American economy.

On March 1, 46 percent of the park–instead of 31 percent–is scheduled to be open to the public. Baiza cited the increased fencing, number of Border Patrol agents, and technology in the park as the reasons for the change.

Organ pipe cactus. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

‘What we are trying to do is retake this landscape’

“The real problem we have with safety is drug dealing, not the people looking for work,” Hires said from a loudspeaker system at the front of the van. Three different border patrol agents riding ATVs raced by, waving. “What we are trying to do is retake this landscape so we can all be free to be out here,” he added.

Twenty minutes later, the vans arrived at Quitobaquito, where two young men toting heavy M14 rifles were already waiting. The rangers arrived at the springs two hours earlier to scour the area and make sure no one was hiding.

“Please be respectful and don’t photograph them,” Hires warned. The park service is worried that cartel members would retaliate against the rangers if their faces were publicized. Baiza says Organ Pipe never sends out press releases announcing new ranger hires for the same reason.

The armed park rangers didn’t greet the group and stayed about 20 paces ahead on the trail. Hires showed the tourists the endangered Sonoran desert pupfish in the pond (the endangered Sonoran mud turtles were nowhere to be found), and answered questions about the names of different plants and flowers. He explained that the springs has been a crossroads for thousands of years, an oasis drawing thirsty desert-dwellers and entrepreneurial shell traders. The tour ended, and two volunteer rangers stood guard as visitors used the restroom in the bushes before the long van ride back.

“You got to show me your visa,” one volunteer ranger joked as people began loading back into the van.

On the way out, Hires pointed out the two park rangers at the top of the hill, green specks on the horizon.

Another border patrol ATV zoomed past the van and stopped the law enforcement park rangers who were escorting the group back to the visitor center.  Two brown packages were tied to the back of the ATV.

“See those bundles? Want to guess?” Hires asked. “Marijuana.” In 2005, the last year the park released border incident data, Organ Pipe park rangers seized 17,000 pounds of marijuana.

The rangers let out a dog from the back of the SUV, as the visitors craned their necks to watch from the van. The dog jumped out and ran to the bundles. He sat down abruptly and pointed his nose at the packages, then looked back at his masters. “That’s the sign,” Hires said. The rangers tossed the jubilant dog a toy, and the Border Patrol agent drove off again in the ATV.

“There’s been a sighting of a UDA,” Hires said a few minutes later, listening to his radio. (UDA means undocumented alien.) “He’s sitting next to a trash can which means he’s waiting for us to pick him up and give him a ride home. He’s given up.”

‘I feel safer here than in Fresno’

Despite all the excitement on the trip, Hires said he thinks the park is very safe because of the law enforcement rangers and the Border Patrol agents.

“I feel safer here than in Fresno,” Hires said after the tour. (He works seasonally in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks near Fresno, California.)

But visitors–or rather, the people who are choosing not to be visitors–still have concerns. In 2010, visits to the park plunged to a 10-year low of 209,600. Baiza says that when state politicians focus on the dangers of Mexico and the border, fewer people visit the park.

“They come here all petrified,” Bonnie Auman, a park volunteer, said. “Then they see all the law enforcement, the Border Patrol.”

Bishop, the Utah congressman, said that while the stagnant economy may have significantly deterred unauthorized migrants who are looking for work, he doesn’t think it has made a dent in the number of drug runners targeting Arizona. “That’s why we need to control the border,” he told Yahoo News. “They’re not going to be affected by E-Verify and the economy, and the Border Patrol needs to have the ability to battle that.”

It remains to be seen whether visitors will be lured back. Hires journeyed to the Quartzsite, Arizona, RV show last month to recruit wary RVers to visit the park. “The No. 1 question: ‘Is it safe there?'” he said. “And the second one was, ‘Are you open?’ People thought we totally closed the place.”

Memorial to Kris Eggle. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

Read more coverage of the 2012 Michigan and Arizona primaries at Yahoo News.

More popular Yahoo! News stories:

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow uson Twitter, or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.

Obama Trashes Military Healthcare

Dear Guests,

Don’t think for one minute that Obama has any allegiance to the United States or to its proud military members.  When men and women of all races volunteer to protect and defend the rest of us Americans, at great risk to their own life and limb, this is the thanks that they receive from their so-called “commander in chief!”  If you do not get upset at what the president is doing to our military after reading this article, you may want to check your pulse!

Bob Grafe

Editor & Columnist   


Washington Free Beacon



Trashing Tricare

Obama to cut healthcare benefits for active duty and retired US military

AP ImagesAP Images

BY: – February 27, 2012 3:36 pm

The Obama administration’s proposed defense budget calls for military families and retirees to pay sharply more for their healthcare, while leaving unionized civilian defense workers’ benefits untouched. The proposal is causing a major rift within the Pentagon, according to U.S. officials. Several congressional aides suggested the move is designed to increase the enrollment in Obamacare’s state-run insurance exchanges.

The disparity in treatment between civilian and uniformed personnel is causing a backlash within the military that could undermine recruitment and retention.

The proposed increases in health care payments by service members, which must be approved by Congress, are part of the Pentagon’s $487 billion cut in spending. It seeks to save $1.8 billion from the Tricare medical system in the fiscal 2013 budget, and $12.9 billion by 2017.

Many in Congress are opposing the proposed changes, which would require the passage of new legislation before being put in place.

“We shouldn’t ask our military to pay our bills when we aren’t willing to impose a similar hardship on the rest of the population,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a Republican from California, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “We can’t keep asking those who have given so much to give that much more.”

Administration officials told Congress that one goal of the increased fees is to force military retirees to reduce their involvement in Tricare and eventually opt out of the program in favor of alternatives established by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

“When they talked to us, they did mention the option of healthcare exchanges under Obamacare. So it’s in their mind,” said a congressional aide involved in the issue.

Military personnel from several of the armed services voiced their opposition to a means-tested tier system for Tricare, prompting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to issue a statement Feb. 21.

Dempsey said the military is making tough choices in cutting defense spending. In addition to the $487 billion over 10 years, the Pentagon is facing automatic cuts that could push the total reductions to $1 trillion.

“I want those of you who serve and who have served to know that we’ve heard your concerns, in particular your concern about the tiered enrollment fee structure for Tricare in retirement,” Dempsey said. “You have our commitment that we will continue to review our health care system to make it as responsive, as affordable, and as equitable as possible.”

Under the new plan, the Pentagon would get the bulk of its savings by targeting under-65 and Medicare-eligible military retirees through a tiered increase in annual Tricare premiums that will be based on yearly retirement pay.

Significantly, the plan calls for increases between 30 percent to 78 percent in Tricare annual premiums for the first year. After that, the plan will impose five-year increases ranging from 94 percent to 345 percent—more than 3 times current levels.

According to congressional assessments, a retired Army colonel with a family currently paying $460 a year for health care will pay $2,048.

The new plan hits active duty personnel by increasing co-payments for pharmaceuticals and eliminating incentives for using generic drugs.

The changes are worrying some in the Pentagon who fear it will severely impact efforts to recruit and maintain a high-quality all-volunteer military force. Such benefits have been a key tool for recruiting qualified people and keeping them in uniform.

“Would you stay with a car insurance company that raised your premiums by 345 percent in five years? Probably not,” said the congressional aide. “Would anybody accept their taxes being raised 345 percent in five years? Probably not.”

A second congressional aide said the administration’s approach to the cuts shows a double standard that hurts the military.

“We all recognize that we are in a time of austerity,” this aide said. “But defense has made up to this point 50 percent of deficit reduction cuts that we agreed to, but is only 20 percent of the budget.”

The administration is asking troops to get by without the equipment and force levels needed for global missions. “And now they are going to them again and asking them to pay more for their health care when you’ve held the civilian workforce at DoD and across the federal government virtually harmless in all of these cuts. And it just doesn’t seem fair,” the second aide said.

Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not respond to requests for comment on the Tricare increases.

The massive increases beginning next year appear timed to avoid upsetting military voters in a presidential election year, critics of the plan say.

Additionally, the critics said leaving civilian workers’ benefits unchanged while hitting the military reflect the administration’s effort to court labor unions, as government unions are the only segment of organized labor that has increased in recent years.

As part of the increased healthcare costs, the Pentagon also will impose an annual fee for a program called Tricare for Life, a new program that all military retirees automatically must join at age 65. Currently, to enroll in Tricare for Life, retirees pay the equivalent of a monthly Medicare premium.

Under the proposed Pentagon plan, retirees will be hit with an additional annual enrollment fee on top of the monthly premium.

Congressional aides said that despite unanimous support among the military chiefs for the current healthcare changes, some senior officials in the Pentagon are opposing the reforms, in particular the tiered system of healthcare.

“It doesn’t matter what the benefit is, whether it’s commissary, PX, or healthcare, or whatever … under the rationale that if you raise your hand and sign up to serve, you earn a base set of benefits, and it should have nothing to do with your rank when you served, and how much you’re making when you retire,” the first aide said.

Military service organizations are opposing the healthcare changes and say the Pentagon is “means-testing” benefits for service personnel as if they were a social program, and not something earned with 20 or more years of military service.

Retired Navy Capt. Kathryn M. Beasley, of the Military Officers Association of America, said the Military Coalition, 32 military service and veterans groups with an estimated 5 million members, is fighting the proposed healthcare increases, specifically the use of mean-testing for cost increases.

“We think it’s absolutely wrong,” Beasley told the Free Beacon. “This is a breach of faith” for both the active duty and retiree communities.

Congressional hearings are set for next month.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars on Feb. 23 called on all military personnel and the veterans’ community to block the healthcare increases.

“There is no military personnel issue more sacrosanct than pay and benefits,” said Richard L. DeNoyer, head of the 2 million-member VFW. “Any proposal that negatively impacts any quality of life program must be defeated, and that’s why the VFW is asking everyone to join the fight and send a united voice to Congress.”

Senior Air Force leaders are expected to be asked about the health care cost increases during a House Armed Services Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Congress must pass all the proposed changes into law, as last year’s defense authorization bill preemptively limited how much the Pentagon could increase some Tricare fees, while other fees already were limited in law.

Tricare for Life, Tricare Prime, and Tricare Standard increases must be approved, as well as some of the pharmacy fee increases, congressional aides said.

Current law limits Tricare fee increases to cost of living increases in retirement pay.


Free Speech Discussion … and it’s free!!

Dear Guests,

This will be my first “post” in nearly 18 months.  This past week has brought to light a serious question about our country’s citizen’s freedom of speech rights.  What were they in the minds of our country’s founders?  What are they “really” today in the true, practical sense of living during this politically charged year of 2012?  And, what might the application of “freedom of speech” look like for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

You may find the link located herein to “Freedom of Expression” of special interest as it applies to the voicing of your own personal opinions.  As always, your thoughtful comments are very welcome.

Bob Grafe

Editor & Columnist  (Some say I “need” an editor!)

Enjoy … from my “new” friends at the ACLU:


Free Speech

Freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and is guaranteed to all Americans. Since 1920, the ACLU has worked to preserve free speech.

Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests »

Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition — this set of guarantees, protected by the First Amendment, comprises what we refer to as freedom of expression. The Supreme Court has written that this freedom is “the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.” Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither and die.

Make a Difference

Your support helps the ACLU defend free speech and a broad range of civil liberties.

Give Now

The ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology (SPT) is dedicated to protecting and expanding the First Amendment freedoms of expression, association, and inquiry; expanding the right to privacy and increasing the control that individuals have over their personal information; and ensuring that civil liberties are enhanced rather than compromised by new advances in science and technology. The project is currently working on a variety of issues, including political protest, freedom of expression online, privacy of electronic information, journalists’ rights, scientific freedom, and openness in the courts.

Additional Resources

Spying on First Amendment Activity – State-by-State (2011 map): Law enforcement agencies across America continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. From the FBI to local police, U.S. law enforcement agencies have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups.

Freedom of Expression (2005 resource): The nation’s commitment to freedom of expression has been tested over and over again. Especially during times of national stress, like war abroad or social upheaval at home, people exercising their First Amendment rights have been censored, fined, even jailed. Those with unpopular political ideas have always borne the brunt of government repression. It was during WWI — hardly ancient history — that a person could be jailed just for giving out anti-war leaflets. Out of those early cases, modern First Amendment law evolved. Many struggles and many cases later, ours is the most speech-protective country in the world.

Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (2010 PDF): A report on Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity

Freedom of Expression – ACLU Position Paper (1997 resource): Early Americans enjoyed great freedom compared to citizens of other nations. Nevertheless, once in power, even the Constitution’s framers were guilty of overstepping the First Amendment they had so recently adopted. In 1798, during the French-Indian War, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Act, which made it a crime for anyone to publish “any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government. It was used by the then-dominant Federalist Party to prosecute prominent Republican newspaper editors during the late 18th century.

Most Popular

Joint Statement on Censorship and Science: A Threat to Science, the Constitution, and Democracy (2007 resource)

ACLU Calls on Maryland Transit Authority to Cease Unconstitutional Harassment of Photographers (2011 press release)

Freedom of Expression in the Arts and Entertainment (2002 resource)

ACLU Statement on Defending Free Speech of Unpopular Organizations (2000 press release)

ACLU Defends Rights of Citizens to Monitor Police by Representing Motorcyclist Prosecuted by State Police (2010 press release)





First Day of School – 1950s Style

Columnist:  Bob Grafe

One of the advantages of being a “senior” citizen is the ability to reflect back over at least a half-century of real time — and to finally be truthful about it!

About 55 years ago, my fifth-grade elementary school teacher, Mrs. Rumbleheart, was welcoming her new class of students back to school after our summer vacation.  She met us at the classroom door with her new class roster in one hand and, “Whack,” her 18-inch ruler gripped confidently in the other.

“Welcome back.” she said with her all-knowing voice.  Most of the girls smiled and said something nice in return while most of us boys just looked down to avoid that familiar teacher’s glare of suspicion.  

In those days we didn’t return to school until after Labor Day was celebrated.  Well, celebrated wasn’t exactly the way we looked at it.  We kids weren’t ever really sure what Labor Day was all about anyway; except we all knew that we were about to return to “slave labor” in that big building called a school where they made us “practice” all kinds of stuff like reading, writing … and that other one as soon as Labor Day was over.

We knew from experience that our only break from true forced “labor” at school was when we were allowed out for recess into “the yard,” complete with concrete flooring and a “protective” (very tall) cyclone fence all around — with school teacher “guards” at every gate.

Modern-day prisons have a resemblance to many earlier-day schools.

The first day back to school was always bad.  But, this one seemed particularly bad.

The teachers, Mrs. Rumbleheart included, were everywhere when we went out for that first recess.  My friend Bruce secretly showed us guys some cigarettes and matches that he brought from home.  Unfortunately, he also unknowingly displayed them in a way that Mr. Kling, the vice principal, could also see them.

A couple of hours later I saw Bruce and his parents leaving Mr. Kling’s office at the end of our hallway.  Mrs. Rumbleheart never called out Bruce’s name for the remainder of that day … or the next day for that matter.  It wouldn’t have made any difference since Bruce didn’t come back to school for a couple of days.  When he came back to school he said that Mr. Kling sent him home to “think about” smoking. 

That didn’t make any sense to us.  He could have thought about smoking while at school.  That way, we guys wouldn’t have had to choose a girl to be on our dodge-ball team since Bruce wasn’t there.

Soon, it was time for our first lunch.  My mother had paid some money so that on “special days,” like the first day of school, I could eat a “hot” lunch at school.  Usually, I would bring a bag lunch with a hand-sliced piece of bologna on thin white bread with mayonnaise and a leaf of Iceberg head lettuce sandwich in a brown bag with a cookie.

My brown bag had my name written on it and would sit proudly on one of the shelves in the overly warm cloak room until it was time to go to lunch.  The school provided a “free” carton of milk for all of us brown-baggers.

I think my mother let me have a hot lunch in the school cafeteria on occasion just to make those bologna sandwiches seem better.  I don’t know if the school cooks only knew how to heat up spaghetti or not; but, it seemed as if every time I ate the school’s lunch it was spaghetti and they always added way too much water to the sauce.

After lunch it was back to the books in Mrs. Rumbleheart’s class.  She told us that we would have a different teacher than her for music and art classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that we “Best be good!” or she would hear about it … and so would we … from “Whack!”

Before the first day of school was over, Mrs. Rumbleheart had us read out-loud some pages from a book so she could check our reading ability.  We all read from the book except for Donald and Doreen.  Neither one of them ever said much in class either.  They had a really funny sounding last name.

After the reading time, we had to write some sentences about what we had just heard.  All I could remember was a couple of guys chuckling when I couldn’t pronounce some big word correctly when it was my time to read.  So, I wrote about them.  Mrs. Rumbleheart was not amused.

Finally, as the end of the first day of school was approaching, Mrs. Rumbleheart handed out a paper to everyone with a whole bunch of numbers on it in various forms and fashions with lines and strange looking symbols. 

“We still have some time to do a little math.” she announced.  Her voice had the same friendly ring to it as does the guard’s voice on death-row asking “Sir, what would you like to enjoy for your last meal with us?”

I recall turning in the paper empty to Mrs. Rumbleheart; and then, years later, having to re-take college algebra three times to finally graduate.

And, so ended another miserable first day back to school after completing a perfectly wonderful summer vacation. 

How long until Memorial Day?

Some things in life really never change … now, do they!

Kingston Trio Comfort Music Continues

By:  Columnist Bob Grafe

When I mention to friends that I grew up along the banks of San Francisco Bay, I have to be careful these days how I mention that I was always attracted to the goings-on at the hungry i (or as people referred to it then as “the eye”) night club in North Beach, San Francisco.

At that time, the club was located in the basement of the International Hotel at Kearny and Jackson streets. The club only sat about 300 people around its three-sided stage and would usually run a couple of shows each night — frequently offering up yet-to-be-discovered talent appearing on stage just before the headline act.

During my youth, the hungry i (the club’s name remains a mystery with some thinking the lower-case “i” was meant to represent “intellectual” while the club’s owner, Enrico Banducci always claimed that it was Freudian and short for “the hungry id.”) was one of “the city’s” hot spots to launch a performing arts career.

Today, however, (and this is why I have to be careful how I tell this story today) the hungry i has relocated from its original location to Broadway Street and is now a topless strip bar operated by Déjà Vu beginning their business venture after the original club closed its doors in the very late 1960s and the “hungry i” name was sold off separately.

What I think about most from those “early” days of my race to adulthood, is the music that was generated from within the walls of the hungry i from the likes of The Limeliters, jazz legend Vince Guaraldi, master folk singer Glenn Yarborough, a young Barbra Streisand and my favorite folk group, The Kingston Trio.

I could hardly wait for the moment when I was actually old enough to enter into the depths of the club to actually see and hear “in person” The Kingston Trio.

No longer would I be relegated to standing next to a side door of the club where I could actually hear Trio member Bob Shane knock out his favorite rendition of Scotch and Soda or Trio member Nick Reynolds verbally play with the audience while singing his story of The M.T.A. or Tom Dooley.

By the time I actually made it “legally” through the doors of “the Eye” the original Kingston Trio had dropped (via an expensive buy-out) singer/banjo player Dave Guard from its ranks and welcomed in John Stewart, a 21-year-old member of the folk group Cumberland Three.

Over the years, I have been a side-line follower of the Kingston Trio collecting bits and pieces of their history as I could — intended to enhance the listening pleasure that I have always received from them during most of my life. From written biographies of the original and subsequent members of the Trio, to song books, to albums to tapes and now to CDs.

Now, after 50+ years of being a true “fan” of this singing group, it finally dawned on me, and I reluctantly accepted the fact, that “they” wouldn’t be around forever to share their musical talents with us.

Original Trio members Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds have already passed on and Bob Shane resides relatively quietly in Arizona fighting an uphill battle with chronic health problems.

At that same time, I pondered just how much time “I” (not to be confused with “i”) would have left as I phase into the early years of senior citizenship, how I would miss the actual live performances of the Kingston Trio that I’ve attended or viewed electronically over the years, and I questioned how I could keep their “comfort” music for me going on forever during the remainder of my life.

While today three new members of the Trio continue performance tours as a tribute to the original and later Kingston Trio members, it just is not quite the “same” as it was originally.

In a deliberate rather than a desperate effort, I began to search out ways that I could still enjoy the original Kingston Trio performances and the other musical skills of many wonderful performers who have provided me with a variety of musical enjoyment excellence over the years.

When I searched the Internet for my personal selections of “comfort” music, I really hit a treasure trove. Not only did the Internet sites offer access to the lyrics of most of the music that I was interested in, but many sites actually offered full or abbreviated sheet music — especially for piano and guitar.

But, when I searched http://www.youtube.com for the Kingston Trio and hundreds of other performing artists, I was absolutely amazed at how many films from actual live performances and musical movie excerpts were available to me.

Music has always been a comfort for me throughout my life. Now, as a slower-than-I-used-to-be senior citizen, I really appreciate the skill and knowledge of computer geniuses that now allows us to access literally unlimited musical forms — right in the comfort of our own homes.

I guess if I ever return to my city-by-the-bay — San Francisco — there won’t be the pull to once again stand by the side door of the hungry i with my ear near the opening attempting to pick up on any new musical numbers.

And, I certainly won’t be trying to get a peek in the door to see any new talent!