WORTH REPEATING: It’s The First Amendment, Stupid

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Despite all our Vento-bashing, let us be clear: Joey Vento has a constitutional right to hang whatever asshole sign he wants on his cheese steak casino shack. That is the price of free speech: Sometimes people say things you don’t want to hear. Sure, it makes him look like a tone-deaf xenophobic bully in the best case scenario and a paranoid ignoramus deeply mistrustful of anyone a shade darker than Caucasian in the worst case scenario. And it reflects poorly on the city, VERY poorly. But barring some proof of denial-of-service based on racial discrimination — and to date there is none — his only crime is being a jerk. As such, we can only second the motion of this editorial in today’s INQUIRER:

THE CITY’S Commission on Human Relations says it will take about two months to decide whether cheesesteak entrepreneur Joey Vento discriminates against customers who don’t speak English.

Two months? Two minutes would be more like it.

This case is weak where it needs to be strong. There’s no proof anyone was denied service because herudyvento16_1.jpg failed to adhere to the sign on Vento’s steak-shop window: “This is America. When ordering, please speak English.”

Say what you will about the sign. We see it as a boorish attempt to intimidate the influx of immigrants while reassuring English-speaking Americans that we still dominate around these parts. At least for now.

But it’s really just a matter of free speech.

The commission held a six-hour hearing on Friday to see whether the sign violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinances.

The commission says Vento is discriminating on the basis of national origin or ancestry. Vento says the sign is protected by his First Amendment rights – and encourages faster service.

But as we said in June 2006, until someone is refused service because of the language problem, where is the line? No one stepped forth to offer any evidence that it had been crossed. The commission, in trying to do good, has created a phony issue – and a folk hero.

One last point before we turn our back the Vento affair: we would find it much easier to swallow Vento’s logic if he were to provide ANY proof that he has taken even a sliver of those cheesesteak profits — 700,000 sammiches sold last year! Some still bearing the marks where the jockey was beating it!* — and invested it into the city’s sorely under-resourced English-As-A-Second-Language programs, and thereby put his money where his big frickin’ mouth is.

*Apologies to Rodney Dangerfield, RIP

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