Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Express your views peacefully

| September 10, 2020 12:00 AM

Whitefish City Council made the right call Tuesday night when they voted down a proposed emergency ordinance that would have placed restrictions on gatherings and demonstrations in the city.

In a 5-1 vote, council denied the proposed ordinance that would have prohibited organized gatherings without a special event permit between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and barred those attending from using megaphones or speakers.

The proposal emerged following a series of sizable rallies with supporters of President Trump and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement converging at the same intersection in front of Whitefish’s City Hall.

While probably legal, such a law restricting peaceful protest would be a serious affront to the spirit of free speech and the First Amendment — setting a precedent in the city more slippery than the Baker Avenue viaduct in January.

“To me this ordinance violates the First Amendment and I can’t support it for that,” Councilor Steve Qunell stated at the meeting. “We all have the right to peaceably assemble and we all have the right to protest.”

It’s certainly worth noting that Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial requested the ordinance, saying that his department is understaffed to handle the crowd of people who are gathering at these rallies at the busiest intersection in town.

While we back the City Council’s decision, the folks attending these gatherings need to uphold their end by keeping things orderly and peaceful.

The safety of drivers and pedestrians using the intersection is a legitimate concern with the rally crowds limiting line of sight. Taking a step back and waving your flags and signs a few feet from the curb will go a long way in preventing a tragedy.

A touch of civility would be appreciated, as well.

If you’re waving a flag or sign with profanity — do better. If you’re getting gruff and confrontational with the other side — be better.

All Americans have the right to express their views, but let’s set an example for the rest of the country by keeping these gatherings peaceful, and without placing an unnecessary strain on our local law enforcement.