Town Bans Booing, Keeps Dissension Under Wraps

For those of you thinking about attending a town meeting in Riverhead, New York anytime in the near future, you may want to think twice about voicing your displeasure with any of the town’s policies.  As reported by the Huffington Post, by a 4-1 vote, Riverhead has banned booing at town board meetings.  But, don’t fret.  Applause is still permitted.  The Board only wants to outlaw behavior it considers “disruptive.”

We do not have access to the legislative history behind the new rules.  But even Justice Scalia should have no problem recognizing the legislative intent without it.  According to the new rules, people are permitted to speak during a public comment period, but they may not “engage in any demonstration, booing or otherwise disrupt the formality of a town board meeting.”  Disruptions are bad.  We understand that.  But if the Board was really trying to assure the healthy flow of board meetings, would it really permit applause?  Anybody whose ever watched a Presidential State of the Union address knows how disruptive – and annoying – applause can be in a formal setting.

Call us crazy, but it appears the Board is more interested in muffling the sound of dissention than honoring the formality of the proceedings.  As originally drafted, the rules recognized that applause can be just as disruptive as booing.  However, as the Riverdale Patch reported, the Board may have only been concerned about limiting some free speech:

The board voted to approve new legislation that prohibits any demonstration that lawmakers would consider disruptive to meetings, specifically booing, but agreed clapping would still be permitted.

The first draft of the legislation banned both booing and clapping.

But, after Dominque Mendez, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, protested that the proposed law “goes far to restrict what’s free expression and free speech,” the board agreed to ban only booing, not clapping.

Hand clapping, Mendez said, has been heard at town board meetings during instances including the preservation of the North Fork Preserve. “People clapped and no one minded,” she said.

Of course, no one minds hearing the sounds of affirmation.  Disagreements, however, should be kept to oneself.  After all, free speech only applies to the kind we like, right?

We here at Abnormal Use do not consider ourselves among the handful of constitutional lawyers out there.  As such, we have no intentions on debating the First Amendment.  Nonetheless, we do know that booing is of the most universal expressions.  Everyone recognizes booing as the collective sound of disagreement.  Honestly, what is more disruptive – listening to one collective boo or having to endure through person after person take the floor to individually voice his or her displeasure?  Let’s just get in one good boo and go on about our business.

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