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Free Speech vs. Government Tyranny in Orange County

A perspective from Dale Hodson

Orange County residents, it’s not time to be quiet about what our government officials are trying to do to our Freedoms. Speak up now, and loudly, or our Freedoms will be gone for good.

About two months ago, June 21, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met to discuss so-called “protestors” and “picketers” and how the County should control where and when protestors would be allowed. The full meeting video can be found here: https://orange-nc.granicus.com/player/clip/1574

At the meeting, about fifty people showed up, in person, to denounce the plans being considered by the Commissioners.

Not ONE person stood up in support of the Commissioners’ plans.

Parts of the meeting were quiet and parts of the meeting were loud.

As the Commissioners were discussing the “proper” distance to keep “protestors” away from schools, Chair Renee Price brought up that 1000 feet was the standard buffer distance for “Registered Sex Offenders” – the audience made clear they weren’t appreciative of being “buffered” in the same way as sex offenders. A lesson in self awareness – don’t associate “parents” with “registered sex offenders” in the same discussion.

At various times during the meeting, the Chair informed the audience that we had a “gross misunderstanding” of the proposed ordinance. She said the ordinance was simply to prevent protestors from “obstructing” children at school. However, no evidence of any criminal acts or “obstructing” was ever presented to support the Chair’s assertions.

The County Attorney and Commissioner McKee confirmed via the County Sheriff that no illegal acts had occurred during the so-called “protests.”

Various Commissioners continued to misconstrue opinions expressed by speakers during the public comments period, by telling us that we thought “this was all about the Orange County School Board.” No – we knew this was about Freedom of Speech, way beyond any prior School Board actions. Earlier School Board actions were certainly a provoking event, but what was being discussed with the BOCC was their attempt to unjustly and unconstitutionally limit Free Speech.

What I found most appalling during the BOCC meeting was the casual attitude that the Commissioners and the County Attorney demonstrated while attempting to strip us of our Constitutional rights. They took it as a “given” that they should remove our Free Speech rights; now they were simply choosing the specific dials to turn, levers to pull, and buttons to push to accomplish that deed.

The Commissioners eventually tabled the proposal, but informed us that they would bring it back to life in September. If they do, we’ll be there again.

I urge Orange County residents to contact the BOCC and demand that they stop pursuing this anti-Free Speech ordinance. The entire Board of Commissioners can be reached at this email address: [ocbocc@orangecountync.gov]ocbocc@orangecountync.gov

There were more than a dozen public speakers during the meeting – watch the video listed above to hear them all.

Here’s what I (Dale) said during the meeting:

I’m here about the picketing Ordinance.

This Ordinance is both mean-spirited and unconstitutional.

It’s mean-spirited because it’s been created to prevent Orange County parents from free speech activities regarding their schools.

It’s unconstitutional because it forbids speech, assembly, and redress, all guaranteed in the 1st Amendment.

It’s also unconstitutional because it violates the “equal protection” provided by the 14th Amendment: students are not bound by the Ordinance, but everyone else is.

So, this Ordinance allows students to “picket,” but I can’t? If a thousand students line the sidewalks “picketing” near a school with their BLM signs, I can’t also join them with my BLM sign? A clear 14th Amendment violation.

And you are criminalizing these protected activities on private property as well? You’ll send the Sheriff out to cite us in our own back yards? This is MADNESS, but that’s what your Ordinance declares.

You tell us the whole reason for this Ordinance is protecting the emotional health of our kids. But where was that concern the last two years when you locked down, remote learned, and masked our kids? We know what damages our kid’s emotional health, and it isn’t picketing, it’s what you’ve done to them the last two years.

You tell us: “We want free speech, but in a way that doesn’t hurt children.”

What does that mean? It means you DON’T want free speech. You want ZERO free speech within 1000 feet of a school, other than for students. You only want speech that is regulated and controlled by the state.

But this is exactly what the authors of the 1st Amendment were aiming to prevent: An authoritarian government, limiting speech.

You tell us our children must be protected. But that’s a parent’s job, not the government’s.

Our child heard or saw something offensive near school today? Fine, as a parent, we step up and do our job: we counsel, console, and discuss it with our child.

You tell us we can “protest” farther from schools, so your restrictions are okay. But restricting, so drastically, the times and locations where we are allowed to speak, is as much a violation of the 1st Amendment as restricting the content of our speech.

You tell us: “no rights are absolute” and “all rights have limits.” But those catch phrases have been favorites of government bullies for decades. The courts have repeatedly ruled that intrusions on free speech must meet very high standards – and your messed up Ordinance does not.

Remove this Ordinance from the Consent Agenda, never bring it back, and stop meddling with our free speech.

“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.