Christiansburg passes regulations of picketing and demonstrations

By  | 

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) -- Since the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, localities around the Commonwealth have taken action to prevent the same from happening again.

On Tuesday, the town of Christiansburg joined its neighbor in Blacksburg by passing an ordinance establishing regulations for picketing on a 6-0 vote.

"We want to make sure that freedom of speech is something that's protected," said Councilwoman Merissa Sachs. "So, in order for our law enforcement to do that, we need to make sure that they have time to prepare."

The ordinance would require groups of 25 or more to apply for a picketing permit no less than 45 days in advance.

The council decided to remove a $25 application fee that was previously required.

"I do think that us waiving the fee was the right thing to do," Sachs said. "I think freedom of speech should remain free under all circumstances."

The decision drew some criticism from the public. Members of the group New River Workers Power waved signs before and during the meeting, voicing their concerns.

"Having that waiting period, 45 days, I mean, any kind of waiting period really, is still an infringement on our rights," said Christie Strawbridge, a member of the organization.

Crystal Mello, another opponent, said she was in Charlottesville on the day the riots broke out.

"I feel like the people warned Charlottesville about what was going to happen in Charlottesville, and they turned their heads," Mello said. "And now, peaceful demonstrators are being held accountable for their failures."

Sachs said the ordinance will protect all citizens, including those expressing their rights.

"We're protecting the rights of those that want to do the First Amendment and have their freedom of speech, so they're also protected," she said. "So we're not hindering that, as long as it remains peaceful."

The ordinance does include exceptions which would allow the town manager to waive or reduce the 45-day advance notice period.

Demonstrations would also not require a permit if they are responding to "spontaneous, newsworthy events."