City Uses Illegal Means to Shut Down a Legal Protest

City Uses Illegal Means to Shut Down a Legal Protest September 25, 2018

I absolutely despise the League of the South, a white supremacist, neo-Confederate organization that loves them some slavery. But they just had to cancel a protest rally that they planned, and if the reason they say they were given is accurate, the city in which the protest was to take place violated the law.

Specifically, the city said they would have to buy an insurance policy and agree to pay any and all costs of police protection. This is a matter the courts decided a long time ago, government agencies cannot do that. For some reason, it won’t let me copy and paste from the website, so here’s an image of the text:

But this issue was settled by the courts a long time ago. Cities and states used to use this tactic to prevent civil rights protests from happening, though the controlling precedent, Forsyth County, Ga. v. Nationalist Movement, involves an anti-civil rights group similar to the League of the South. The county in that case used a similar tactic to prevent the group from holding a protest and the court struck down the ordinance that authorized it.

The basic issue is this: A government agency can charge a nominal fee for a permit, but must have a procedure for waiving that fee if imposing it will prevent the protesting group from being able to exercise their First Amendment rights. And there can be no discretion beyond that for government officials. They can’t charge more if the group has a message they don’t like and they can’t charge more based on the reaction of others to the content of the protest. If a group of counter-protesters shows up and the police are required to keep the peace, that is what the police are supposed to do.

Again, this was a very common tactic to shut down civil rights protests. Show up to counter-protest and engage in violence and the local governments, who were hardly friendly to civil rights, would then use that to justify forcing them to pay for police protection. But our tax dollars do that. The Fire Department can’t charge individuals or businesses different amounts based on how many man-hours it takes to put out a fire. They don’t send a bill to those who lose their homes or businesses in a fire. And they certainly can’t base that on whether local officials approve or disapprove of them.

I know many will say that this is different because the League of the South is a hate group, and that they certainly are. But legally this is not a relevant distinction, whether you think it should be or not. There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment, nor does such a protest come anywhere close to the legal standard for inciting violence. The government is not allowed to make such a distinction legally under the First Amendment.

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