Arguing that the location of their local congressman's office infringes on their right to free speech, Tea Party protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, have asked Democratic House Rep. Tom Perriello to relocate so they can protest him more easily.
After protesters opposed to Perriello were told they can't demonstrate in the private parking lot next to Perriello's building, the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute -- described by The Hill as a "Christian civil liberties" group -- sent a letter (PDF) to Perriello asking the first-term congressman to relocate to an office that would be more conducive to protests against him.
Writing on behalf of the Jefferson Area Tea Party and the University of Virginia College Republicans, the Rutherford Institute placed the blame for the protest ban not with the businesses that objected to the demonstrators -- "private property interests must be protected" -- but with Perriello, for choosing that location.
"Although the decision to forbid any demonstrations was made by the landlord of the property, the root of the problem lies in your decision to locate your local office in a place where public petitioning and demonstrations may be restricted by those protecting their private property interests," the letter states. "We strongly recommend that when your lease expires you relocate your Charlottesville offices...."
The decision to ban protests came after businesses sharing Perriello's office building were disrupted by protesters, as well as counter-protesters supporting Perriello's decision to vote in favor of the House health reform bill.
"It was turning into a nightmare," Victoria Snapp, owner of a beauty spa that shares Perriello's building, told local news blog The Hook. In mid-November "we had three different assemblies, and the smallest was 17 to 20 people ... We're a full service spa. You want to get a massage to step away from the world. The last thing you want to do is go through a screaming crowd while trying to relax."
For their part, Perriello's spokespeople say the congressman "absolutely supports" the protesters' right to free speech, but, unfortunately, his office lease runs through January, 2011 -- when the congressman's term ends, and when, presumably, the Tea Party protesters hope he will be out of office.
The Charlottesville Daily Progress reports that Perriello's opponents will still be able to protest on a nearby sidewalk, and the congressman's staff are willing to come out to the protesters and listen to them.
“If their goal is to petition us, they can come in [to the offices] anytime and we’ll listen to what they have to say,” spokeswoman Jessica Barba said.