City council: We must approve all groups

Monday, July 18, 2011

Last week, a city council in Arkansas approved an ordinance that flatly prohibits the formation of organizations without city approval, KLRT-TV reported.

Gould’s mayor, Earnest Nash, promptly vetoed the measure, calling it unconstitutional.

The measure states: “No new organizations shall be allowed to exist within the city of Gould without approval from majority of the city council.” According to KLRT, “Boy Scout troops, book clubs and even discussing city matters with your family in your own home” would be subject to the measure.

“This is America and even though this is Gould, Arkansas, this is still part of America,” Nash said in an interview with the television station. “And in America, you can’t just vote and violate peoples’ constitutional rights.”

The First Amendment Center’s David L. Hudson Jr. also said the ordinance clearly violates the First Amendment.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized for more than 50 years that the First Amendment protects groups’ and individuals’ right of freedom of association,” Hudson said.

Council member Sonja Farley told KLRT that under the new ordinance, “you couldn’t just come in here and get with four people and decide you want to start an organization. You will go through your city council with documentation, the right paperwork and get an approval.”

Nash vetoed the measure on what he said was a technicality. But it is scheduled to be considered again in August. The mayor said he was unsure if he would be able to stop the ordinance’s enactment.

The rationale for the ordinance — and for other recent council measures, which include disbanding a citizen’s advisory group and restricting the mayor from meeting with anyone without the council’s approval — is unclear.