Pay to protest? Gaston County considers fee, permit for demonstrations

North Carolina

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Come February citizens might have to pay upwards of $250 to protest on Gaston County property.

The controversial proposal is up for discussion right now in Gaston County and some are saying it’s borderline unconstitutional.

The Gaston County Board of Commissioners voted on the ordinance Tuesday night and it failed to pass due to one lone “no” vote coming from the Chairman of the Board, Commissioner Tom Keigher.

“I believe what was in the resolution, which was it wasn’t thought through, in my opinion, that’s the reason I voted against it,” Keigher said.

The ordinance comes with a few caveats that might deter people from publicly demonstrating. The first is that if there is more than 25 people in their group the county would require $250. If you have more than 500 people that amount would spike to $750 and that applies to any sort of group wanting to demonstrate, regardless of what for.

The high fees weren’t the only reason Keigher opposed the ordinance. Groups of any size would need to apply for a permit 30 days in advance prior to their demonstration. Keigher said this just didn’t make sense to him

“So let’s say PTA meetings Monday and Friday after school, they want to have a little protest outside. You can’t wait 30 days to do that,” he said. “So this right now the county manager, the county attorney, they’re going through this page by page and they’re going to rectify some of these things before it comes back to us.”

The next time this ordinance is voted on they won’t need a unanimous vote, a simple majority “yes” will pass this ordinance through.

“Why all of a sudden, are you wanting to implement such a charge and a 30-day notice for us to protest?” said Ashley Rivera Mendez, founder of Gaston Freedom Fighters. “I think it’s an abuse and it’s unconstitutional for us to have to pay to practice for our first amendment rights,”

The American Civil Liberties Union was also upset about the ordinance and is waiting to see what the county comes up with come February.

“I think that protecting people’s ability to exercise free speech and assembly is the cornerstone of our democracy and it allows for people to express views that can shed light on where we are in this moment what people think and can help other people grow,” said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, ACLU of North Carolina.

I reached out to the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office as well as the commissioners who voted for the ordinance but did not here back.

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