Free speech being threatened?
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Dennis Apel has crossed many lines in his life.

One marked his transition from trucking-company salesman to caretaker of the poor. He stepped past another when he went from persistent, perhaps quixotic, protester to antiwar vandal. Tossing his blood on this military base’s entrance sign a decade ago earned him two months in prison.

But the line at issue in his free-speech case before the Supreme Court on Wednesday is real and tangible — painted in thick green on a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

The federal government owns the land on both sides of the road, which runs through this sprawling air base north of Santa Barbara. On one side of the line are guarded gates and the main entrance to the military installation; on the other is a spot that base officials have set aside for people to protest the preparation for war that goes on there.

The federal government says John Dennis Apel does not belong on either side of that line, or standing near the highway, or for that matter anywhere else in the 22 square miles that constitute the base’s property.