Nat Bates: First Amendment Rights

blogimage.jpgIt appears Mayor McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Beckles and Councilman Butt need a history lesson review in the US Constitution's first amendment rights.

“Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws.

Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted. There are exceptions to these general protections, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising.

Despite the exceptions, the legal protections of the First Amendment are some of the broadest of any industrialized nation, and remain a critical, and occasionally controversial, component of America”

What occurred last night was a travesty of justice and a clear violation of first amendment rights when the mayor ordered everyone to vacate the council chambers because they were applauding speakers after they had spoken. A standing room only group of labor union workers and several citizens applauded speakers in the “open forum” agenda item after they indicated support for the Chevron Modernization project.
The mayor ordered the removal from the chambers including at least one senior citizen on walkers, several elderly and disabled, a few youth and many citizens who had absolutely nothing to do with the Chevron Modernization project. They were thrown into the city council lobby with few chairs while many had to stand while the council argued for in excess of 30 minutes trying to make a decision to overturn or support the mayor’s dictatorial position. Finally after a heated discussion, Councilmembers Booze, Rogers, Myrick and I voted to overturn the mayor’s decision and to allow the audience back into the chambers.
What prompted this unusual demand by the mayor was crystal clear in that she and Beckles continues to be obsessed in their dislike and anger toward Chevron USA. With respect to the applause before the city council, at almost every meeting we have similar responses from individuals and groups applauding a recognition award, RPA speakers, anti-RPA speakers, and during the recent Housing Authority special meeting, without criticism from the mayor. In my opinion, Richmond, California continues to be in the United States of America and we live in a democratic society and neither this mayor nor any mayor should have the arbitutary right to take away citizens' freedom of speech. I do not care if the mayor can garner seven votes; it still does not make it right.
Thanks to the common sense of a majority of the council, Rogers, Booze, Myrick and I, democracy was able to prevail. Guess what, once the mayor's ruling was overturned, the meeting continued smoothly with the same level of applause and without any problems.

Nat Bates, Richmond City Council Member

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