GREENVILLE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – Greenville County is considering an ordinance that would tell people where they can and cannot protest.
The proposed anti-picketing ordinance was introduced at the Greenville County Council meeting on Tuesday night.
It would prohibit picketing or protesting in front of a residence.
Greenville Councilman Steve Shaw introduced the new ordinance addressing the matter.
“It was based on the Supreme Court case Frisby, which oddly enough it was actual anti-abortion protesters in front of a doctor’s home, and it was found to be where that was taking the first amendment too far and it extended over into just annoying and intimidating and trying to influence in ways that the first amendment was not intended to,” said Steve Shaw, Greenville County District 20.
Shaw was inspired by a similar law in another state.
“Recently, Florida passed a law that I became aware of statewide, that just prohibited picketing outside, targeted outside of private residences. So that interested me,” Shaw said.
“More recently, I was on a trip to Washington, D.C. a couple weeks ago and I, just out of curiosity, I wanted to see where Senator Graham lives because I knew he lived close to the Capitol,” Shaw said. “I was just simply doing some research on where he lives and videos came up where they were standing in midnight with cowbells and horns and yelling and stuff like that, and I said, ‘This is a neighborhood. This isn’t the halls of Congress – in front of the local park or something like that,'” Shaw said.
“Then we have a history of it here, where actually some people’s homes were targeted here in Greenville County, like our auditor when he was on council. You know they had actually targeted his home and residence,” Shaw said.
A portion of the proposed ordinance reads as follows:
“(2) It is unlawful for a person to picket or protest before or about the dwelling of any person withGreenville County’s website
the intent to harass or disturb that person in his or her dwelling.
(3) A person who violates this section commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable
by up to a $500 fine and thirty (30) days in jail per violation.
(4) Before a person may be arrested for a violation of this section, a law enforcement officer, or a
local, state, federal, or military law enforcement agency must go as near to the person as may be
done with safety and shall command any person picketing or protesting before or about the
dwelling of a person to immediately and peaceably disperse. If any such person does not
thereupon immediately and peaceably disperse, he or she may be arrested for a violation of this
John Reckenbeil, an Upstate civil rights attorney, said by law, this type of ban is constitutional.
“Yes, and this has been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in an Illinois case back in the 80s. And it was made very clear, that the government has an interest in protecting homeowners in their privacy of their own homes, and from people protesting and picketing outside of their homes. So, that was upheld in a 6-3 decision, and so I see it as very reasonable, especially in light of the last couple of weeks and months with the U.S. Supreme Court Justices having all of those people literally outside of their homes,” Reckenbeil said.
“I see this as something that Greenville County has every right to do,” he said.
Long-time Community Activist Bruce Wilson, doesn’t agree with the proposed ordinance.
“This is ridiculous and think about this, the sidewalk belongs to the public, so you can not restrict me from being on a sidewalk which is own by the public– and tell me I can not assemble. And the biggest thing that it is guaranteed up under our constitution, that I can assemble on a sidewalk. I don’t know where this came from. I know they’re looking at some type of issue that happened in Florida, this is not Florida,” Wilson said. “I will challenge this if they push it through,” Wilson said.
Reckenbeil said even on the sidewalk, if it’s specifically targeted at one resident, it’s a no go.
“The first amendment basically the analysis of what they call RTPM–Reasonable, Time, Place, Manner. That’s literally what the Supreme Court came up with–your right to protest. And they also talked about traditional public forums. The sidewalk is a traditional public forum, however, when you have this narrow exception to the first amendment, Justice O’Connor says in that case, that you have a right to protect a person’s privacy over a person’s right of free speech–in that narrow protected area, that is that person’s residence,” Reckenbeil said.
“So yeah, you can’t ban a person from being on the sidewalk of a county courthouse or other places, but for this specific purpose, a sidewalk outside of a person’s home, it would be a very limited protected forum,” Reckenbeil said. “If it’s specifically targeted at one resident, then that is a picketing and protest violation,” He said.
Reckenbeil said by law, people can march in neighborhoods, as long as you’re not blocking traffic.
“The Supreme Court in that case, Justice O’Connor said you can march through a neighborhood, you can put leaflets in a neighborhood, you can go and telephone people. You can literally put communications alongside mailboxes and public displays,” Reckenbeil said.
Shaw said overall, this is to protect everyone’s right to privacy in their own homes.
“It goes for you, me, everybody should be able to go home and live in peace if they’re home. And these public discussions are welcomed in public square and the public forums,” Shaw said. “But when it goes where they’re targeted people’s homes, I don’t care who it is, what side of any argument that you’re on…it’s just harassment…intimidation,” he said.
“First of all, I’m a public figure, I am,” Wilson said. “So I signed up for it and I know what it comes with. I get harassed a lot. I do, but I’m a big boy and I signed up for it and that comes along with the territory. Now when it comes to threats I get that. I’m an individual that received a lot of threats,” Wilson said. “When you start talking about threatening someone’s life, that’s different. When you start talking about someone exercising their constitutional right to protest, you have every right to do that,” he said.
Shaw said next the discussion will go to the Public Safety Committee.
“It goes to a committee, which is public safety, which we have a number of things coming up on,” Shaw said. “There will be a period–there will be a consideration of public safety committee which I don’t know the date. I believe we’re going to meet in August. But then, it has to come out of committee and it would have a second reading in front of a full council, and a third reading it would be passed. And there’s a public comment section,” Shaw said.
Click here to read more about the proposed ordinance.