I saw this in the Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice the other day: City set to establish permit fee for protests. I know a lot of other places have requirements for permits and fees for things like this, and frankly, I was surprised that Wilkes-Barre didn't already have such an ordinance in place.
Sure, it doesn't sound right. Is it Unconstitutional? Well, the Constitution only states
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.It doesn't say anything about what the Wilkes-Barre City Council can and cannot do.
And, sadly, there's a lot of precedent for Wilkes-Barre to rest on. According to a comment from local activist Tim Grier on Big Dan's Big Blog, this ordinance is based on one that has been on the books in Philadelphia - and, as Tim found out in a recent dispute with Luzerne County (where he learned that people who merely reside in a County, but are not members of the Landed Gentry, have fewer rights than those folks who are), precedent is 99/100ths of the law. Remember the "Free Speech Zones" in New York City during the 2004 conventions - basically concentration camps where protestors could speak their minds in fenced-in areas well out of earshot of anyone they were trying to protest against, or wanted to be heard by? That's where ordinances like this lead.
These ordinances exist for several reasons. They provide a way to restrict and regulate who says what, and when and where they say it. They provide a legal basis for silencing those who refuse to comply. And they provide revenue, $20 at a time.
I wonder if the local governments of Selma or Montgomery, Alabama would have granted a permit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? As Tim points out, "While they say they 'won't deny anyone a permit,' there are more than thirty reasons listed in the ordinance that enables them to do just that."
If you live in the City of Wilkes-Barre - well, now is the time to speak up about this. Before you have to cough up $20 to do so, if someone decides to allow you that right.
Last time I looked, honey, I was living in the United States of America, not the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This whole friggin' country is a Free Speech Zone, and a lot of folks fought and died to make it that way. If you don't like it, go to Russia. Just don't let Uncle Vladimir serve you tea.
Thanks to Gort for the prodding, and Big Dan for the heavy lifting, and Tim Grier and Walter Griffith for making an issue of this when other people might have just shrugged and said "Eh, whaddya gonna go?"