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ACLU Objects to Proposal to Ban Signs at City Council Meetings

Posted: October 05, 2011|Category: Free Speech

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The RI ACLU has urged the Warwick City Council to reject passage of a resolution, scheduled for a vote next Wednesday, to ban the display of signs or posters at City Council meetings. The proposal follows a lengthy and somewhat raucous Council meeting last month attended by hundreds of residents concerned about an increase in the motor vehicle excise tax for city residents.

The proposed resolution, in seeking to justify the ban, asserts that it would “enhance proper decorum at the meetings.” However, in a letter sent to City Council members, the ACLU argues that sign displays “represent a core exercise of free speech rights that strengthens the democratic process.”

The letter concludes by stating: “Allowing the display of signs and posters at City Council meetings is good public policy. It also reflects a commitment to core First Amendment principles, for signs provide an important, if silent, means for members of the public to make points and express views. We believe that the government can inappropriately stifle residents’ speech as much by tying their hands as by gagging their mouths. If the Council sincerely feels the need to deal with issues of decorum, there are many avenues for doing so short of restricting the peaceful and silent exercise of First Amendment rights by city residents.”

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