The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent a letter today to the mayor and police chief of Oakwood, Georgia rebuking the city for shutting down a student protest organized by the Young Democrats of Hall County last month. If the city does not respond in 30 days, the ACLU of Georgia is prepared to take legal action.
“These students were peacefully exercising their constitutionally-protected rights to speak and assemble, but the City of Oakwood shut them down anyway,” said ACLU of Georgia executive director Andrea Young. “Oakwood’s heavy-handed suppression of a nonviolent student protest was a brazen violation of the First Amendment that requires immediate corrective actions to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The ACLU of Georgia demanded the city take several steps to prevent future violations or face potential litigation. Specifically, the organization demanded the city fix an “overbroad and unconstitutional” city ordinance that requires a “sign permit” for any visual displays, regardless of their size or number, retrain its police officers on the rights of protesters, and publicly confirm that an existing peddler’s ordinance does not apply to protests.
On July 1, 2017, about 11 people organized by the Young Democrats of Hall County peacefully gathered on a public sidewalk just outside the University of North Georgia to protest the recently-passed law allowing students to carry concealed firearms on the college’s campus. The protestors displayed hand-held signs and did not impede walking traffic on the sidewalks or step onto the road.
Oakwood police officers approached the protestors and informed them that in order to protest: 1) their signs had to be pre-approved by the Oakwood Police Department 2) the protestors had to have a peddler’s license and 3) the protestors needed a permit to protest on the sidewalk.
In the letter, ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean J. Young states that “each of these requirements is unconstitutional as applied to peaceful sidewalk protests like the one that occurred here.”
The Board has since posted notice of these proposed changes, which will be voted upon at 10am on August 14, 2017, at 130 Peachtree Street SW, Suite 2186, Conference Room 128, Atlanta, Georgia, 30303.
On July 18, the ACLU of Georgia sued the Board for violating state law when it approved a set of polling place closures and changes without giving adequate notice to the public. Georgia law requires election officials to publish proposed polling place changes for at least 14 consecutive days before approving them. The Board had published the proposed changes just 6 days in advance.
“We’re pleased the Board has agreed to reconsider these changes in the light of day,” said Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia executive director. “We encourage all voters who would be affected by these changes to attend the hearing on August 10 and make their voices heard.”