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August 21, 2017

On Aug. 18, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that temporarily blocked protests at the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond in an effort to allow the state more time to write new emergency regulations. This executive order raises some serious First Amendment concerns. The following statement may be attributed to ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga:

“The ACLU of Virginia supports the effort of the Governor and others to develop constitutional rules that permit appropriate regulations of the time, manner and place of protests and demonstrations, including limits on carrying weapons of any kind (including sticks on signs). The Governor’s broad and sweeping prohibition of all speech in a particular public forum for up to 90 days is, however, constitutionally suspect.”

“It is a sad reality of this moment that nearly every protest carries with it a risk of violence. Protecting the First Amendment in the current context requires extremely careful and thoughtful decision-making by the government officials in whom we place our trust.  We cannot allow fear and loathing to drive us to abdicate the rule of law or temper our fealty to basic constitutional principles. We cannot allow government to use safety considerations as a thin veil for broad and sweeping prior restraints on our speech or other expressive activities in public spaces.”

“We must require our leaders to follow accepted case law that requires a finding by a judge that any proposed prior restraint on speech is justified by concrete evidence of an imminent threat of harm by a particular speaker or speakers.  The decisions we allow our leaders to make in this moment should not be ones that empower future leaders to use them as precedent in the pursuit of tyranny. Without a safe, secure, and nonviolent space for the free expression of ideas – even the most hateful ones – there can be no true freedom in academic, artistic, scientific, or political affairs.”