Anti-Bush t-shirts cause arrests and lawsuits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —- A couple arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts to a July 4 presidential appearance filed a federal lawsuit yesterday alleging their First Amendment rights were violated.

Nicole and Jeff Rank were removed from the event at the West Virginia Capitol in handcuffs after revealing T-shirts with President Bush’s name crossed out on the front. Nicole Rank’s shirt had the words “Love America, Hate Bush” on the back, and Jeff Rank’s said “Regime change starts at home.”

Their lawsuit was filed in federal court by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.

“What is at stake here transcends politics,” Jeff Rank said at a news conference at the Capitol. “What is at stake is the right of all Americans ——Democrats, Republicans and independents, all Americans –to peacefully voice their dissent to their government.”

Trespassing charges filed against the couple were later dismissed. The City Council and Mayor Danny Jones have publicly apologized.

The lawsuit names Gregory Jenkins, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance and W. Ralph Basham, director of the U.S. Secret Service, as defendants.

The couple wants a judge to declare unconstitutional any policy that led to their arrest. They also are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Spokesmen for the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Justice, to whom a White House spokesman directed questions, declined to comment. Both said their agencies do not comment on ongoing litigation.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit last September against the Secret Service, seeking an injunction against the Bush administration for segregating protesters at his public appearances. The Secret Service agreed to stop the practice.

Jeff Rank, 29, said he and his wife wore the T-shirts because, “When you see the president speak on TV he is usually shown surrounded by fervent supporters only. While we wanted to hear him out and while we wanted to see him in person, we did not want to be added to the tally of Bush supporters that day.”

Nicole Rank, 30, initially was dismissed from her job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but was rehired after the charges were dropped.