By Andy Grimm
HAMMOND — Joel Ferguson felt he had a lot in common with outsider presidential candidate Ron Paul, a Texas Republican who is known for complaining about Congress straying from a “strict” interpretation of the Constitution.
And, after a Hammond parks worker and a police officer kicked him out of last week’s Festival of the Lakes for passing out Paul campaign literature, Ferguson himself has a constitutional gripe.
“I feel my First Amendment rights were violated,” said Ferguson, a 30-year-old Munster resident who said he was peacefully handing out pamphlets outlining Paul’s anti-war, anti-tax presidential platform.
“The first time, they told me I had to go because (the festival) was on private property. It’s not. The next day, the cop just told me to leave ‘Because I told you so.'”
Ferguson called City Hall on Friday, the morning after he was asked to leave by a Park Department employee after standing at the entrance to Wolf Lake Park for about 90 minutes. City officials told him he did indeed have a right to pass out literature, provided he didn’t create a disturbance.
Ferguson returned Friday, again he was there for about an hour, and this time was told to leave by a police officer.
“I told (the officer) that City Attorney Kristina Kantar said I could be there. He just said I had to go, ‘She’s not here. I am.'”
Kantar said she did respond to his call, and was not aware that Ferguson had been told to leave again Friday.
“We have no policy that says he couldn’t be there. Nor could we,” she said. “I’m not sure what happened.”
Ferguson said he did not see anyone from rival campaigns passing out literature, but still feels it was wrong to limit free speech in a public place. Ferguson, a student taking online classes, said he is head of the local Meetup.com group for Paul supporters.
A spokesman for the Paul campaign did not return calls for comment.
Paul, a 10-term U.S. Congressman who finished third in the 1988 presidential race as a Libertarian Party candidate, has cultivated an outsider campaign based on what he calls a “strict” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, which calls elimination of income tax, a strong support for gun rights and disdain for foreign alliances.