Winter Park, Florida’s City Commission gave a preliminary approval to make an “emergency public safety ordinance” permanent. It would effectively shut down most if not all protests within fifty feet of any home and no ability to protest in a residential area. This is the First Amendment under attack.
The ban comes after pro-life protestors picketed the home of a notable resident on August 18. Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando CEO Jenna Tosh said, “I literally had to push through these folks who were carrying massive protest signs and signs that said, ‘Jenna Tosh kills babies and hurts women.’”
That night the Commission passed and emergency 60-day ordinance that banned protesting in residential areas. Then on September 10 they voted to make that ordinance permanent.
The 4-1 vote, which was opposed on the Commission by Mayor Ken Bradley, grabbed the interest of a local constitutional lawyer, who said the city went “way too far” to stop anyone from protesting within 50 feet of a residential home in the city. Attorney and UCF political science instructor Derek Brett said the ordinance would ban protesting in “huge swaths of the city,” referring to it as “unconstitutionally overboard.”
On Monday night, the mayor denounced the protest at the Tosh home as “heinous.” But though the protest in question involved signs depicting aborted fetuses, Bradley said that he couldn’t stomach voting to make protesting illegal.
“I understand the need to have some sort of public safety… but I just can’t get around our Constitution on this matter,” Bradley said. “I just can’t vote to stop free speech.”
The remaining four members of the Commission disagreed, stating that the city’s need for public safety trumped its need to allow protests. The ordinance will require a second vote before it officially becomes law. That could occur as soon as Sept. 24.
It’s quite amazing actually that many of these commissioners claim that “personal safety trumps free speech.” This is especially curious since no one was threatened or harmed in any way. While people do not have a right to protest on private property, to say they cannot protest on public sidewalks or within a certain distance of a house is government stepping over its bounds.
Isaac Babcock goes on to write:
Winter Park resident Paul Vonder Heide said there is no added danger from protestors because there are already laws in the city to protect residents if they’re in danger.
“Laws that prohibit rioting, assault, noise and trespass for example,” Vonder Heide said. Those laws, he said, would be enforced on site by the same police officers who would now be dispatched to stop protests before any of the existing laws were broken.
Vonder Heide pointed to the interesting timing of the city recently honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. before curtailing speech rights in the city.
“You put a sign up in a public park to honor a civil rights leader, yet your ordinance mocks his life dedicated to peaceful protest as the most effective weapon against a racist and unjust society,” he said.
He’s right. If there are no laws broken, the people have the right to peaceful assembly under the Constitution.
Commissioner Steve Leary said, “I hate that we have to do this. I hate that our friends or neighbors or guests would have to feel fearful in their homes or any other place. Just for me, protecting our residents and their children, and if they have fear of walking out of their door, that’s a tough call. No one should live in fear of that.”
Well since you hate it so much Mr. Leary, why do it? Again, no one is in danger. Perceived fear is not a reason to violate people’s rights.
City attorneys claim the ordinance will hold up in court. They cite Frisby v. Schultz that was decided by the Supreme Court in 1988. The Court ruled 6-3 that the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and protest was not violated when the the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburb of Brookfield passed an ordinance banning protests outside the home of Dr. Victoria, who performed abortions.
Attorney Larry Brown said, “When I dug into these laws, they stated that protecting residential tranquility was a paramount issue.”
Mr. Brown cited a legal precedent, Carey v. Brown, for such ordinances in other states as well.
The problem comes when cities fail to cover all of its bases with their ordinances, says constitutional law specialist Derek Brett. “What happens if you have a Baptist church that’s sponsoring an operation rescue rally, and that happens to be in a residential neighborhood?” Brett said. “Not only do you have conflicts of free speech, but also conflicts of free exercise of religion.”
All this will end up doing is making criminals of law abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and allowing for more totalitarianism at the local level.