RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Raleigh Police Department’s response to a protest is raising new questions about our constitutional right to assemble during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officers broke up a protest on Tuesday, citing the stay-at-home orders now in place.
The protesters came together in front of the General Assembly in downtown Raleigh to demand the state “re-open.”
Raleigh police sent out a tweet saying, “protesting is a non-essential activity.”
People fired back on Facebook. One person wrote, “nothing is more important than our constitutional rights.” Another, “literally trying to enforce a police state while ignoring the constitution.” And another, “we will be back next week to protest in bigger numbers.”
“There are still ways they can be heard,” Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said.
Freeman told CBS 17 the county and state stay-at-home orders don’t violate the first amendment.
“Our courts have long said that there are certain limitations that can be put in place. Currently, under the state of emergency, one of the limitations is the prohibition of mass gatherings,” Freeman said.
Gov. Roy Cooper was asked about it.
“This is in order to protect people’s public health and to try to slow the spread of the virus,” Cooper said.
The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law (NCICL) said the orders need to be revised, if not repealed.
“Government doesn’t get to tell people how they get to make their voices heard,” Jeanette Doran, the president and general counsel with NCICL said.
Doran said they sent a letter to the governor and local governments offering to work with them.
“They need at a minimum to amend them and make it clear that they respect the right of the people to assemble and to speak freely,” Doran said.
“I don’t think those are things that need to be spelled out in terms of the right to protest within the proclamation or within the executive order,” Freeman said.
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