Posted 8 years ago on May 26, 2012, 9:29 p.m. EST by bensdad
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NEWTON NC-- Catawba County has reconsidered its initial decision not to allow a protest Sunday at its Justice Center, citing the constitutionality of the ordinance and will allow the event to proceed.
The protest, at which thousands of people are now expected, is organized by Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate and against Providence Road Baptist Church and its pastor the Rev. Charles Worley.
Laura Tipton, a member of Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate, said the group filed an application Thursday afternoon to have the protest at the Justice Center on Sunday, something it had not previously done.
It was after that application was filed that the county reconsidered its options. A statement issued at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday, said in part: “This application raised questions regarding the constitutionality of the existing regulation, specifically the 14-day requirement for applications to be received in the County Manager's Office. Catawba County has always striven to uphold the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceable assembly. After receiving the citizen’s application today, the County consulted with constitutional law experts.
“Following significant discussion and analysis, and in the interest of demonstrating appropriate respect for the ideals embedded in the Constitution, Catawba County has chosen to grant permission for the assembly this Sunday. The issues raised have given the County the opportunity to examine the existing regulations, and in the coming weeks staff will be working on creating a revised ordinance that ensures balance between the community’s significant interests and the exercise of first amendment freedoms.”
Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate has been outspoken since a video of a sermon preached by Providence Road Baptist Church Pastor Charles Worley was posted on YouTube and went viral. In the sermon, Worley told his parishioners “lesbians,” “queers” and “homosexuals” could be eliminated by separating the men from the women and putting them in an electrified fence. Although they would be fed they would eventually die out because they could not reproduce.
The county denied Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate’s request to hold its protest at the Justice Center, because it did not meet the county’s code regarding the use of facilities and grounds, according to a earlier news release. There had been no formal application to use the Justice Center as a place to meet.
Originally, Debra Bechtel, the attorney for Catawba County, said the county’s primary concern was safety.
Part of the original restrictions for an application was that it must be submitted to the county manager’s office at least 14 days in advance and only nonprofit educational, civic, cultural and environmental groups are eligible, according to the code. These organizations must be in existence for at least a year before requesting to use county facilities.
Bechtel said the 14-day requirement between the time someone requests the use of a facility and when it can be used is so the county can check the organization, as well as the availability of the place the organization wants to use. She said part of the problem with using the Justice Center is its size.
“Capacity is the primary issue,” she said. “There’s not enough room for 2,000 people. The county isn’t opposed to what they want to do.”
Bechtel had said the county tried to help Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate come up with alternative locations, including the American Legion Fairgrounds. However, it’s being used for another event this weekend.
Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate had asked the North Carolina office of the American Civil Liberties Union to become involved after the group was initially told it could hold its protest. It was “investigating the situation,” according to the organization’s legal director, Chris Brook.
“We have sizable concerns about the permitting process,” he said.
Those concerns included the county requiring a 14-day notice before a permit can be issued and that a group must be set up in Catawba County for a year, as well as another provision in the code, which gives the county manager the discretion to approve a permit himself.
It states, “The county manager is authorized to approve applications and has the right to waive any subsection of this section when doing so would more effectively serve the public’s interest, except where prohibited by law.”
Brook said the ACLU has followed the story in the media.
“We were contacted by folks who were interested in this,” he said. “We’ve known about some of the challenges since (Wednesday).”
Bechtel said she’s had some communication with the ACLU. She acknowledges the provision in the code saying the county manager can approve a permit when it can more effectively serve the public, but she cannot recall an event that Manager Tom Lundy has overruled and issued a permit for. Lundy has been the manager of Catawba County for 33 years.
Throughout the day, Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate’s Facebook page stated it would hold the protest at the Justice Center in Newton, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
“We’re still going forward with the protest on Sunday,” said Tipton.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said the sheriff’s office is prepared for this weekend, with security for Providence Road Baptist Church, as well as for the Justice Center. It’s not possible for the protest to be held near the church because there is no empty field nearby, and no room for cars to park in the residential neighborhood.
Reid said a decision has not yet been made as to whether deputies will block off the entrance to the Justice Center. If there are any protestors at the church who set foot on the church’s property, they will be told to leave, Reid said. If they don’t they will be arrested for trespassing.