On April 11, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Franklin, Tennessee, put forward for consideration what they called a “Community Decency Policy.” The policy, scheduled for consideration again on May 23, claims that it is meant “to promote the health, safety, human rights, prosperity, and general welfare of the people of Franklin, Tennessee.”
Sounds good, right?
Not so much.
The proposed policy unconstitutionally bans conduct that "does not align with generally accepted community standards of behavior." Though the policy provides examples of unacceptable conduct like nudity, lewdness, and sexually suggestive behavior — which is already enough to raise First Amendment issues — its scope is not limited to those examples.
The policy's language is overly vague. Who decides what "community standards of behavior" are? The same board enacting the policy, of course. This broadly worded policy would give a few city officials a blank check to restrict any speech they deem unacceptable. Not only would the policy violate the First Amendment, it would also promote a culture of censorship.
The fact is, regardless of local government opinions or community sensibilities, the First Amendment protects Americans' right to express themselves in ways that some might find objectionable.
Despite being touted as a policy to protect the “human rights” of the people of Franklin, Tennessee, the Community Decency Policy would significantly limit their free speech rights to only expression approved by local leaders.
Franklin proposed the Community Decency Policy as the town was considering whether to approve a permit for the yearly Pride festival. Franklin Pride was granted its permit this year, but the implications of the proposed policy are much broader than questions of community acceptance or tolerance of a single Pride event. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture a future board, with different values, setting its sights on any other event and canceling it on the basis of the Community Decency Policy.
Today it could be Pride, tomorrow, who says it’s not March for Life?
The fact is, regardless of local government opinions or community sensibilities, the First Amendment protects Americans' right to express themselves in ways that some might find objectionable. The Franklin Board of Mayor & Aldermen must respect its constituents’ First Amendment rights by voting against the Community Decency Policy.