NCGA Stifles Protesters Free Speech Rights   Leave a comment

Given what the geniuses in Raleigh have done over the past year-and-a-half, this doesn’t surprise me one bit

The optics weren’t good for North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature last spring when Moral Monday protesters started showing up as lawmakers met and passed controversial legislation.

What began on April 29 of last year with a few dozen, mostly ministers, praying and asking legislators to meet with them and hear their concerns about the regressive and harmful laws quickly mushroomed to hundreds and then thousands of demonstrators. Seventeen, including leader Rev. William Barber, were arrested that April day for nonviolent civil disobedience, accused of trespassing and failure to disperse at the State Legislative Building.

By July, more than 800 had been been arrested. By the session’s end a few weeks later, the arrests numbered 945.

Republican policymakers including Gov. Pat McCrory (and led by Art Pope’s Civitas Institute) lampooned and mocked the protesters, labeling them as mostly outside agitators and not N.C. residents. But that was proved false by media and others.

Clergy were joined by teachers, doctors, students, business people. They were young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American. They spanned economic classes. Even some identifying themselves as Republicans joined the ranks. And they were mostly Tar Heel residents.

By the end of summer, polls showed the protesters were held in higher esteem than lawmakers.

So, this should come as no surprise: On Thursday, the second day of the short session of the N.C. General Assembly, the Legislative Services Commission met for the first time in 15 years to change the rules governing public access to the legislature. The changes they passed target Moral Monday protests directly and place limits on such gatherings.

One rule change specifies behaviors that could violate legislative rules and trigger arrests, including “singing and clapping,” behaviors Moral Monday protesters engaged in regularly last year. Another rule change prohibits signs on “handsticks“ or signs that “disturb” legislators. Another places size limits on gatherings outside the General Assembly.(Respriv)

Now, I’m not a constitutional scholar by any stretch of the imagination but this is wrong, both on constitutional and on cynical grounds as well. Constitutionally speaking, these rules are so vague that they invite an almost certain challenge should anyone be arrested (and later convicted) of violating these new rules. On the other hand, the cynic in me believes that what these rules are intended to do is set up Moral Monday protests as lawless in nature; the rationale for this is that, the ways these new rules are written, it given conservatives the chance to criticize the Moral Monday protesters as ‘lawless’ should they be convicted of violating these new rules.

At the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if this only spurs even bigger Moral Monday protests down the road; it would serve the geniuses in Raleigh right.

H/T to Resist the Privatization of America

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