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Sign Language

How one downtown business exercised its First Amendment rights.



Last Friday, along with flyers advertising local theaters and St. Patrick's Day festivities, a poster in the window of the Empire Coffee Company took a stand.

The large white sign said that the coffee house at Main and Madison had been asked not to put any anti-Bush information in their window during the president's stay in Memphis. In tiny print at the bottom, it added, "We would instead like to remind the agent that we still have first amendment rights."

"Somebody called us Wednesday evening asking that people not put up any anti-Bush signs," says owner John Gasquet, "so I put up a sign saying I'd been asked not to."

Gasquet is not sure which federal agency, if any, the request came from. The caller may have identified himself, but Gasquet says he wasn't paying close attention at the time.

"When they first explained it, it sounded reasonable. They said they were trying to keep protests down to a minimum," he says. "It wasn't like, 'You can't do this.' It was just kind of suggested."

The sign was up in the morning during the president's chat at the Cannon Center but was gone by the afternoon because Bush was. Then Gasquet gave the sign away.

Before the telephoned request, the coffee house did not have any anti-Bush statements in the window.

"We've had things up for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center before. We always have stuff up. We have a good number of posters in the window right now," says Gasquet.

He thinks he ticked a few people off with his sign and says it might have been a bad reaction, but he sticks with it.

"The explanation was reasonable enough. But the more I thought about it, the more I questioned the legitimacy of it," says Gasquet. "To have someone doing that, it just rubbed me the wrong way."

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