The Jackson County Commissioners decided maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea to qualify free speech. Maybe it was the packaging. They voted against what was called the “Public Assembly” ordinance. Had it been named the “Free Speech Security Empowerment for 21st Century Children” ordinance, voting against it would indeed put an ugly scar on one’s political resume.

The boring-name bill would have required a permit for any group of ten or more to protest on county property. Furthermore, these large protests would be confined to grassy areas away from building entries. Actions and signage would also be restricted by guidelines.

Clark Lipkin, who serves on the county’s planning board, argued:

The burden shouldn’t be on the public to prove why they deserve the right to protest, but rather on the government to prove why they shouldn’t.

Since no commissioner was willing to make a motion to approve or reject the ordinance, no action was taken. The bill can, however, be tweaked somewhat to rear its ugly head for another go-round.

County Manager Chuck Wooten had first proffered the idea of a protest ordinance to commissioners. The idea was prompted following a sit-in in the lobby of the Jackson Sheriff’s Office weeks earlier, in which immigrant rights activists on their way to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte had clogged the lobby and hallway, beating on drums and demanding to see Sheriff Jimmy Ashe.