GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (WJZY) — Gaston County leaders are voting on an ordinance aimed at protesting on county property.
The rule would require people to provide notice before gathering, but some feel it is a violation of their right to free speech.
This ordinance is actually a second draft. The first required protestors to pay to demonstrate on county property. With this new revision, they won’t be paying in dollars, but rather in time.
County leaders would require groups to provide 48 hours notice for parades or mass gatherings and 24 hours for protests. There would also be a curfew for protests on county property from 11 p.m. – 6 a.m.
“From a First Amendment perspective, it really chills speech to say that even spontaneous protests…you have to give notice to public officials before you conduct them,” Kristi Graunke said.
Graunke is the Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union in Raleigh. She says despite safety being the main objective for Gaston County, the First Amendment goes beyond that.
“The First Amendment does contemplate that things will not always be perfectly orderly, and that maybe there will be some surprises when people come to speak in a public place, and in fact, the surprise can be part of the impact,” Graunke said. “Certainly, the sheriff, you know, would have the authority to take certain measures to ensure public safety, but that doesn’t extend to people having to clear speech through the government before they engage in it.”
But Gaston County Commissioner Chad Brown said this ordinance doesn’t restrict freedom of speech.
“When someone says it’s restrictive, it’s not,” Brown said. “We’ve basically done nothing more than change the way you go about things, letting someone know just so they can be prepared so they can protect you and your citizens.”
The Assistant Deputy Chief at the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department, Michael Radford, said after last summer’s violent protests, they just wants a heads up when people want to protest. For them, it’s about resources and public safety.
“Preparing reduces the likelihood of any uses of force, because it allows us to prepare for it,” said Radford.
Brown said the board is likely to vote to pass the ordinance tonight.