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Saying "No" to unconstitutional orders

  • Steve Armbruster of Lehighton, a police officer at Kutztown University, was disciplined after refusing to remove peaceful campus demonstrators.
    Steve Armbruster of Lehighton, a police officer at Kutztown University, was disciplined after refusing to remove peaceful campus demonstrators.
Published April 13. 2012 05:01PM

Nearly as an afterthought, the nation's founding fathers attached a Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. But since 1776, in every generation, people have come to power who find it convenient to ignore these rights and use their wealth and power to quash those of opposing views.

Such happened recently at the University of California-Davis where a university police officer walked among students who were sitting down, protesting increased tuition costs, and sprayed pepper spray into their faces. The police have been found to have acted without provocation and the offending officer may be liable for his actions.

Five years ago, there was a nearly similar situation at Kutztown University. It involved Steve Armbruster of Lehighton.

Armbruster works as a police officer with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The 21-year veteran, who is a graduate of the Allentown Police Academy and holds the rank of corporal, is stationed at Kutztown University.

On April 18, 2007, approximately 15 evangelists of a pro-life group peacefully shared their opposition to abortion and homosexuality on the Kutztown University campus. They attracted crowd of a reported 300 loudly opposed protesters. In response, the Kutztown University president and Kutztown University police chief directed the evangelical group to leave the campus.

"The university president asked that they be removed from campus," Armbruster said. "They didn't break the law. It's a public school, so they didn't need any permits. Anybody could set up a display in the quad and talk about anything they chose."

The Kutztown University police chief told Armbruster to arrest the demonstrators. "I told him that I can't arrest them because they hadn't broken any laws-but it was so politically charged with the university president being there. I left and they arrested the demonstrators."

"They tried to discipline me," Armbruster said. "The issue from my point of view was Freedom Of Speech. I didn't care if they were left-wing or right-wing or whatever-it didn't matter. As a police officer, I took an oath to defend everyone's Constitutional rights."

Armbruster sued the university with support from the Alliance Defense Fund and the ACLU. He currently continues in his job, as he patiently nears retirement.

His court case attracted the attention of the Oath Keepers, a group organizing at the time. "They stand for protecting the rights of U.S. citizens by supporting members of the police and the military if they choose to disobey unlawful orders," Ambruster explained.

The Oath Keepers flew Armbruster to Las Vegas, where he was presented with the Police Officer of the Year Award. Excited to be among like-minded souls, Ambruster became involved in the Oath Keepers and worked his way to become the Pennsylvania chapter president. He is currently on its Board of Directors. "We have over 100,000 members that are either active military, retired military, or members of law enforcement," he said.

"The Oath Keepers are not a Tea Party group," he explained. "It's a group of libertarian-minded people-Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. They're against the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act-laws that allow people to be arrested and detained if they are suspected to be involved in terror. People should have "due process". These acts took the rules of war and extended them to homeland America."

In November 2011, Armbruster ran as a Republican for the office of Carbon County Sheriff-and lost. He feels the system needs to be changed. "The politics in Carbon County is not about ideas, it's about people who have established their political dynasties," Armbruster said. He believes that Carbon County has long-term politicians, and extended families in both political parties that make it difficult for outsiders to get elected. He feels that the county lacks diversity.

Ambruster said that if he were he elected Sheriff of Carbon County, he would refuse to enforce any law that would violate the rights of its citizens. His opponent, the current Sheriff, Dwight Nothstein, did not agree.

"Take foreclosure as an example," Armbruster noted, "A sheriff just can't rubber stamp a foreclosure. If there is evidence of fraud, the sheriff has to take a stand. He's taken an oath to protect the rights of the citizens."

The issue of disobeying a political order was most pronounced when President Richard Nixon's order to dismiss Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, was defied and led to the "Saturday Night Massacre" dismissal of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.

In this month's primary, both Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania Attorney General, Patrick Murphy and Kathleen Kane, have both publicly stated that the "Women's Right to Know Act"/Mandatory Ultrasound Bill is unconstitutional and they will not enforce it.

With so many laws on the books in America, could it be a coincidence that the United States has the most people incarcerated in the world.

Pat Buchanan said of Oath Keepers, "America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right."

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