Politicians are known to spout nonsense and make blustery speeches on occasion -– it comes with the territory. But when a municipality hires outside attorneys to defend indefensible positions it's a waste of public funds, plain and simple.
As reported in this newspaper, the Southampton Full Gospel Church wanted to stage a small protest on the steps of town hall last July 26 to protest the first day same sex marriage licenses were to be issued.
Instead, the town denied the request, and herded seven would-be protestors to stand near an out of the way hedge the town claimed was the designated area for protestors. Village and town police were on hand to keep the peaceful demonstrators in line.
The problem, and the reason the town is facing a Civil Rights lawsuit, is that officials had no right to deny the request. In fact, a raucous demonstration by the Police Benevolent Association had taken place on the very same steps a couple weeks before. The town's Anti-Bias Task Force, in conjunction with the NAACP, also held a rally on the steps and the sidewalk in front of town hall.
The town, in this case, claimed because town hall had been declared a "bias free zone" the town was within its rights to limit what protests take place.
Nonsense. As one attorney said, "it doesn't matter if it's the Dalai Lama or the Ku Klux Klan. It's protected by the constitution." In fact, the First Amendment is perfectly clear in the matter.
One onlooker said a U.S. District Court judge in court last week was incredulous that the town is hanging its hat on the "bias-free zone" concept. Even town officials privately acknowledge it is symbolic and nothing more. To fight a lawsuit on the principle is folly, and the town apparently is willing to spend a lot of taxpayers' money to defend an indefensible position.
Let's tell it like it is: the church's anti-gay rhetoric offends some of the liberal chic crowd that rules the Hamptons. So the town came up with an arbitrary, self-righteous scheme to silence the protestors.
Ironically the town convinced itself these seven protestors from the church, some of them grandparents, posed some sort of threat, but larger, rowdier demonstrations were allowed to proceed.
The town agreed in court to allow the demonstrations to proceed while the suit wends through the legal process. We suggest acquiescing before more money is wasted on legal fees.
If the town wants to hang "Bias Free Zone" signs up in town hall so be it. But let's not continue to pretend it is some kind of defensible legal position. There is such a thing as a gun free zone, and a smoke free zone. These are tangible, enforceable bans.
The idea of a bias free zone is a politically correct, well-intentioned message, but it was a moronic idea to use town hall -- a public building -- to play this silly game.