Certain members of the Fairfax County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors are considering denying the right of citizens to peaceably assemble on private property in a monstrous government overreach. Although this issue was settled in 1776, some local officials seemingly have “Obama Syndrome,” and are attempting to essentially ignore laws and amendments as they see fit. There are no gray areas in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In Fairfax County, a proposed amendment to a current zoning ordinance would limit the number of individuals a person is allowed to invite to his or her property to 49 a day, and if that limit is exceeded more than three times in any 40 day period, the person holding the meetings would essentially be a lawbreaker. What is in the minds of county officials who would even consider such a proposal?
The amendment in its entirety brings to mind Hitler's banning of “unauthorized meetings,” although the Board of Supervisors' weak argument is that they received complaints about loud parties. This prompted some individuals at yesterday's meeting to say “so?” This “what's your point?” reaction from certain citizens is based on the fact that there have always been complaints about out-of-control parties or other neighborhood nuisances, but these complaints do not justify trampling a person's First Amendment rights in part or in whole.
There are already parking and noise regulations on the books to address such situations, and if a person's meetings are not violating those ordinances, it should not matter whether that person has 49, 75 or 100 people on his or her property. In addition, many involved individuals at all three sessions felt that the term “frequent and large gatherings in neighborhood homes” is worded far too subjectively to pass muster. Questions asked at all three meetings included “who decides what is too frequent?” Few answers were given.
Many people also wondered why the county does not simply address the issue by enforcing current regulations designed to deal with such disruptions, rather than attempting to implement a blanket ban to eradicate certain First Amendment rights: if an individual cannot decide what takes place on his or her own property, that person has surrendered those rights. The ordinance would hamper birthday parties, realtors' open houses, wedding receptions community block parties, graduation events, family reunions and any other peaceful gathering one could imagine, even having a Super Bowl party.
Music to the ears of many was the statement made by Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) who said that the county is opening itself up to a constitution challenge or lawsuit by attempting to interfere with the right to peacefully assemble. Much evidence exists to back up his statement, as the Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that minor nuisances do not trump First Amendment rights. Therefore, the zoning proposal that would take direct aim at the right to assemble on one's own property should have never been considered at all. It is a grave and fundamental violation of the United States Constitution and is more in keeping with something drawn up by a dictator or monarch.
Fortunately, outrage over this proposal is gaining steam, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors may find out in the near future that they bit off much more than they can chew in this attempt at excessive government overreach. The bottom line is, limiting the number of individuals allowed to visit a specific dwelling is similar to banning radios because some people play their music too loud. Interestingly, it has been reported that among the millions of peaceful gatherings that take place on a yearly basis in Fairfax County, only six complaints were filed since January of 2011 with regard to large, problematic assemblies. This led many people to wonder if Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors don't have something better to do with their time and their taxpayers' money.
Furthermore, this proposed ordinance also violates Virginia's religious freedoms by prohibiting Bible studies and other religious meetings in homes if more than 49 participants are present. Unknown to many Fairfax County residents, religious meetings are a specific target of this ordinance, although the majority of the Supervisors have done their utmost to convince residents that noise, parking, and "other concerns" are the main issues addressed in the proposal. If one were to read the ordinance, he or she would quickly discover that none of those issues are included; religious meetings, however, are included. This begs the question what is this ordinance really about? Why would any Board of Supervisors want to violate the constitutional rights of their citizens?
Attempting to pass such an ordinance will open up the county to litigation–at the expense of the taxpayers, of course–over minor nuisances for which there are already laws in place to handle. The proposed ordinance is nothing more than needless regulation to address a problem that most citizens know does not even exist, and make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding residents. Hopefully, the board members who are in favor of this atrocity will do their job, which is to abide by the Constitution and the will of the people and give no further consideration to this blatant assault on the First Amendment.