Bethlehem Police Supports Occupy Bethlehem

The political group, Occupy Bethlehem, has indicated that they will be in the City of Bethlehem starting on the morning of Friday 21 October 2011 protesting outside of the Civic Center Complex on Payrow Plaza.  The Bethlehem Police Department supports an individual’s Constitutional Rights to Free Speech and Assembly.

Streets and parks “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.”, Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939). That principle has been reiterated in case after case.  It is important to understand that protesters and demonstrators have rights protected by the Constitution, specifically regarding freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully. 

While providing protection, the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or in a manner that may be desired (Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, 452 U.S. 640, 647 [1981]).

Under both state and federal law, governments are allowed to place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the freedom of speech (Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 791 [1989]).  The government can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on protected speech, provided:

(1) restrictions are justified without reference to content of regulated speech,

(2) restrictions are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and;

(3) restrictions leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.

The City of Bethlehem Police Department will take the position that distribution of literature protected by the First Amendment and the making of public comments or statements protected by the First Amendment, will be permitted, provided that:

The individual or group does not block a throughway or access to any area of the Civic Center and that the individual or group does NOT behave in a manner that disrupts the daily operations of the Civic Center or the Public Library. Unacceptable behavior will include, confronting individuals, blocking access to the Civic Center, blocking access to the Public Library, blocking the roadways surrounding the complex, or blocking access to the underground parking garage.   Sound amplification systems will be permitted provided they do not serve to disrupt the normal business operations. 

There is a general proposition that amplified speech, such as through the use of bullhorns, is protected expression.  “The First Amendment protects effective speech, not merely uttered words, and effective speech sometimes requires that ideas be transformed into musical speech, loud speech, financial speech or other forms of expression that a casual reading of the First Amendment might not reveal as “speech.” See Ward, 109 S.Ct. at 2753 (music); Federal Election Comm’n v. National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U.S. 480, 493, 105 S.Ct. 1459, 1466, 84 L.Ed.2d 455 (1985) (political financial contributions); Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 4, 96 S.Ct. 612, 627, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976) (same). In fact, the Court in National Conservative Political Action Comm. appears to endorse the idea that amplified speech is sometimes essential to effective communication and deserves protection”  See Stokes v. City of Madison, 930 F.2d 1163, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 1991). 

Any action taken by the Bethlehem Police will be based only on the conduct of persons at the gathering, rather than the content of their speech, absent fighting words which would be so inflammatory and directed at an individual so as to require our intervention.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989)  “[I]n public debate our own citizens must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate breathing space to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation, Occupy Bethlehem.

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