Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
At Monday night’s meeting of the Franklin Town Council, members considered amendments to a current ordinance that would clearly define the town’s procedure for permitting parades and demonstrations during Monday night’s meeting.
John Henning Jr., attorney for the Town of Franklin, presented the board with a draft ordinance Monday night that details the specifics of who and how permits for parades and demonstrations are handled by town employees.
“The demonstrations and political events of this year led to us reviewing the current ordinance,” said Henning. “There were a couple of provisions that needed to be revised to keep up with some more recent federal cases – things such as the need to allow spontaneous demonstrations without a permit; not requiring one for groups that stay in the sidewalks without blocking them and that obey traffic laws. Police Chief Bill Harrell was already aware of these legal requirements and none of the matters that arose this summer and fall were affected by these issues, so we’re really just trying to make sure we have a cleaned-up ordinance.”
While the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects free speech activities, the United States Supreme Court has consistently ruled that municipalities like Franklin may regulate First Amendment-protected activities through reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
Amendments to the town of Franklin’s Parades and Demonstrations ordinance include:
Changing the definition of group demonstration from: ”Any assembly together or concert of action between or among two or more persons” to “A public display of sentiment for or against a person or cause including protesting among two or more persons.”
The proposed changes also add social events and festivals to the types of events regulated under the Parade and Demonstration ordinance. The change will add outdoor concerts, fairs, community event, or similar event that is primarily commercial and/or recreational in nature to the existing ordinance.
Amendments also clarify that permits will be required for activities that obstruct or block any street, sidewalk, alley, or other public place within the town, as well as for a parade, picket line, or group demonstration.
The proposed amendments clarifies consequences of violating the ordinance as well by proposing that, “Participation in illegal parade, picket line, or group demonstration is unlawful.”
As Henning noted that the proposed changes specifically state that if the event is spontaneous due to unforeseeable and immediate events, a permit is not required.
The proposed amendment also changes the notice the town would need for such events from 24 hours to 48 hours notice.
Permits left to the discretion of the Chief of Police of the town can be denied for/if:
• A permit has already been issued for the same time and place.
• Abuse of the permitting process, such as providing false information in an application.
• If the applicants proposed activities would be unlawful, endanger the health and safety of surrounding persons, significantly inhibit pedestrians and vehicular traffic, or deprive the municipality of critical services that could not be supplied through other means.
Members of the Town Council did not vote on the proposed amendment Monday night, but took the amendments under advisement and will discuss the issue further during the January board meeting.