As we head into a trial in defense of Eric Navickas, it is important to note that Eric is taking a stand this week in front of a jury of his peers. It is a scary proposition – he has been offered a resolution for a minimal fine and a non-criminal citation but he is aware that there is a gap in our nation’s laws and he is aiming to resolve that gap one way or another. He apologizes for his terse words with Officer Perrone when he was grabbed and ordered around, it was an emotional reaction for which there is no excuse. But terse words are not illegal in our society.
Eric has been an ideal and encouraging client who has remained steadfast in his hopes to get some light shed on what a person’s rights to assemble and protest are amid dozens of registration requirements. At the time of this protest, a person would have had to pay up to $850 to the city of Ashland, several hundred dollars to ODOT, get 1 million dollars of liability insurance, give 2 months of notice prior to advertising, and get five different permits to hold a 1st Amendment activity. That seems like it is hardly what the framers of the Constitution meant when they said Congress would make no law prohibiting the right of the people to speak, to petition the government for redress, and to assemble peaceably. Eric points out that famous protestors rarely if ever got permits for their events and their cases were all dismissed – the State has kept this prosecution alive partially because of Ashland politics.
In Washington, D.C., a city with real traffic and safety issues, the requirements are often less than they are in Ashland – a city with a reputation for being progressive. In Eugene, a similar use of the disorderly conduct statute to convict a street preacher was shot down after he was convicted in the trial court. The court of appeals overturned that conviction as unconstitutional.
The problem is the court has not touched on what reasonable restrictions are with regards to the obstruction of traffic. We know that it is only lawful to obstruct traffic without a permit if the law that restricts the time, place and manner of speech is not narrowly tailored to meet the city’s needs in planning for such a protest. It seems like the large number of permits and money required is not narrowly tailored, it’s downright difficult to get permits for most everyone I know who organizes races, events or protests.
Regardless of the outcome this week, and we are very hopeful the jury will say no to this prosecution and find Mr. Navickas not guilty, this is a discussion that continues on to the appellate courts and the Supreme Court about how far a city government can push the envelope in placing requirements on protests that are onerous and expensive for the planners. We again call on Ashland to reform its current protest statute to be more accommodating to 1st Amendment protests and make Jackson County a county that truly respects the freedom won and such a steep price for our citizens and friends.