September 14, 2012
The city fathers in Winter Park, Florida, are one vote shy of shutting down the First Amendment.
Isaac Babcorck, writing for the Winter Park / Maitland Observer, reports that the Winter Park City Commission earlier this week gave preliminary approval to make an “emergency public safety ordinance” permanent.
The ordinance bans protests within 50 feet of a residential home. It was imposed after anti-abortion activists protested outside the home of a “notable resident” Jenna Tosh in August. Tosh is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando. She told the city she felt “threatened and ambushed” by anti-abortion protestors on a public street outside her home.
City Commission members shut down the First Amendment in response to anti-abortion messages and images on placards displayed during the demonstration, including images of aborted fetuses. The city immediately imposed a 60-day ordinance banning protests in residential areas. The Commission voted to make that ordinance permanent.
Although the mayor of Winter Park, Ken Bradley, described the protest as “heinous,” he objected to making the ordinance permanent, which the City Commission voted to do over his objection.
The City Commission insisted the ordinance was necessary for public safety. “I hate that we have to do this,” said Commissioner Steven Leary. “I hate that our friends or neighbors or guests would have to feel fearful in their homes or any other place. Just for me, protecting our residents and their children, and if they have fear of walking out of their door, that’s a tough call. No one should live in fear of that.”
The ordinance effectively bans the First Amendment in “huge swaths of the city,” attorney and UCF political science instructor Derek Brett told the newspaper.
City attorneys, however, believe the law will hold up under legal scrutiny. Larry Brown cited Frisby v. Schultz, a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988.
In Frisby v. Schultz, the Court ruled 6-3 that the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and protest was not violated when the the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburb of Brookfield passed an ordinance banning protests outside the home of Dr. Victoria, who performed abortions.
“When I dug into these laws, they stated that protecting residential tranquility was a paramount issue,” Brown said.