My Turn, Todd Paris: The difference between having a right and doing right
Last Sunday was a busy day for the First Amendment here in Salisbury, NC. It appears that the same or similar group that appeared to protest the Pride Festival found themselves ensconced in front of a local Lutheran and Episcopal Church right before Sunday Service reportedly yelling and calling arriving parishioners and their young children “sodomites” and making grim forecasts for their spiritual futures.
Meanwhile, back at the Lutheran church, another group arrived with confederate flags to wave them about the Confederate war dead statue. It’s a wonder they did not bump into each other in passing. This, of course, predictably angered many black citizens of Salisbury-Rowan who are still rightfully reeling from the hate crime/serial murder just 10 days before at Mother Emanuel, and the following week, a string of at least three intentionally set fires at black churches.
Later that day, a group of black citizens, angered at the affront, launched a counter demonstration further down the street. Some leaders have questioned the disparity in police response and whether the other two groups were asked if they had a permit, as they were. It appears none of the three groups had one.
Article V of the Salisbury Municipal Code defines a “group demonstration” as assembly together or concert of action between or among two (2) or more persons for the purpose of protesting any matter and provides such demonstration; be at all times under the supervision and control of the police department of the city, prohibits others from interfering with a duly permitted demonstration, requires the name and number of the group or responsible organizer, prohibits weapons at the demonstration, requires a permit from the city manager at least three days before the event, and basically allows him or her to restrict the group demonstration only in time, place and manner. It is content neutral.
The courts have generally held that a statute or ordinance that imposes content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest will survive constitutional scrutiny. Even hurtful speech on public issues is protected to ensure that public debate is not stifled.
Despite assertions to the contrary, I have read the ordinance and, in my opinion, it is constitutional. All three groups should have been cited though, in all honesty, the third demonstration would never have occurred without the second. Everyone should be treated exactly the same, regardless of race, religion or content of the message.
I would say this. Even with a proper permit, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. “Christians” picketing a house of worship and screaming slurs and curses does not seem very Christian to me, and waving the “stars and bars” around 10 days after the murders at Mother Emanuel seemed the very inverse to the popular T-shirt saying and appeared to be “hate not heritage.” Tolerance people, tolerance — or that evil little monster with the bowl-cut wins.
Todd Paris practices law in Salisbury.
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