SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker says local governments aren't respecting the First Amendment rights of many Utahns.
And he's proposing legislation to help make some changes.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said a constituent in Provo was at a city recreation center attempting to collect signatures for a petition to enforce a referendum on an initiative pushed by the mayor when that citizen was told he'd have to stop because it was annoying some of the patrons.
"People complaining about your speech doesn't entitle anyone to stop you," Thurston said Wednesday during a Political Subdivisions Interim Committee meeting. He is worried that not only are people's rights infringed, but cities are unprotected and could potentially face lawsuits on the matter.
In the instance that Thurston outlined, he said the city attorney believed the manager of the rec center had the right to "restrict the time, manner and place" for freedom of speech, and he "didn't want people to get upset."
Thurston said the decision caused the city to violate about eight to 10 well-established precedents pertaining to the constitutional right of freedom of speech.
"The problem was that the city didn't know or understand or follow the law," he said, adding that "it happens on a fairly regular basis."2 comments on this story
His legislation proposes guidelines for cities and towns to clearly define ordinances related to free speech demonstrations, if they choose to, but doesn't mandate any changes.
"It will protect the right of citizens to freedom of speech," Thurston said. "It is designed to protect both the citizens and the cities and reduce the number of lawsuits."
He supported similar legislation during the last session, and while his colleagues in the House supported it, the bill did not make it through the Senate before the session ended.