CHARLESTON, W.Va. The federal government has agreed to pay $80,000 to a Texas couple arrested and charged with trespassing in 2004 after they refused to cover up homemade T-shirts with anti-Bush slogans.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Nicole and Jeffery Rank of Corpus Christi, Texas, announced the settlement yesterday.
The Ranks were handcuffed, removed from the July 4, 2004, presidential rally at the state Capitol and held in police custody for between one and two hours.
"This settlement is a real victory not only for our clients but for the First Amendment," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. "As a result of the Ranks' courageous stand, public officials will think twice before they eject peaceful protesters from public events for exercising their right to dissent."
An order closing the case was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
"We are pleased that this matter has been concluded," said White House spokesman Blair Jones. "The parties understand that this settlement is a compromise of disputed claims to avoid the expenses and risks of litigation and is not an admission of fault, liability, or wrongful conduct."
The recent revelation of the existence of a presidential advance manual made it clear that the government tries to exclude dissenters from the Bush's presidential appearances, the ACLU said in a prepared statement. "As a last resort," the manual says, "security should remove the demonstrators from the event."
The front of the Ranks' T-shirts bore the international symbol for "no" superimposed over the word "Bush." The back of Nicole Rank's T-shirt said "Love America, Hate Bush." On the back of Jeffery Rank's T-shirt was the message "Regime Change Starts at Home."
Jeffery Rank, who was a Republican who disagreed with Bush, said he found it ironic that the government manual encourages event organizers to use young Republicans as "rally squads to oppose messages like ours at presidential appearances." Rank has since changed his party affiliation, the ACLU notes in its release.