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Nudity and mask-wearing ban proposal: ACLU says decorum rules go too far

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for seth brigham being arrested.JPG
Seth Brigham being arrested in February.
The February arrest of Seth Brigham, who stripped to his boxers at a Boulder city council meeting in reference to a possible nudity ban, has led to proposed rules of decorum that prohibit disrobing and more. To Judd Golden of Boulder's ACLU branch, the prospective regs represent an "unnecessary overreaction to an isolated incident."

The most potentially divisive portion of the proposed decorum guidelines put forward by council members George Karakehian and Lisa Morzel reads:

While in attendance at a council meeting, no attendee shall disrupt, disturb, or otherwise impedes [sic] the orderly conduct of any council meeting by any means, including by uttering loud, threatening, or abusive language, making any personal, impertinent, contemptuous, unduly repetitive, slanderous, or profane remarks, nor engaging in any other verbal or physical disorderly conduct that. [sic] Disorderly conduct includes without limitation shouting, jeering, clapping, whistling, stamping of feet, disrobing, wearing a mask or material of any kind that obscures the face of the person, boisterous conduct, or other acts which disturb, disrupt, or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of any meeting, Disorderly conduct also includes failing to obey any lawful order of the presiding officer to be seated, leave the meeting room, or refrain from addressing the council, board, or commission.

That's quite a laundry list, and Golden, who's written a letter to council laying out his argument against the changes (see it below), is troubled by many of the items on it. Take the restriction involving face covering. "There's a big, international controversy about women who wear veils, and I guess Boulder's going to take a stand on that," he allows. "I don't think that's what they intended, but that's the way it's written."

Beyond that, he feels the rules are a solution in search of an ongoing problem. He notes that "I and others from the ACLU have taken part in public participation at city council meetings for many years, and there have been a wide range of people who've shown up: some who've made pertinent comments, others who've made impertinent comments, and still others who've had very little to say but got up and talked anyway.

"But this is all about one incident, and all you have to do is watch the video of it and you can see that it was an over-response to this guy Seth Brigham trying to make a point by stripping to his boxer shorts. And they've reacted to it by drafting these rules, which include so many terms that are so general that it allows for very arbitrary enforcement."

Not that Golden objects to the council establishing such rules. "It's a formal body, and they're elected officials -- and when citizens approach to address them, it's very fair to expect them to respect the body they're addressing and have some reasonable decorum while doing that. But many of these terms could be used to focus on the content of what people are saying, and that's the main mischief here.

"I'm sure the council will say, 'Oh, don't worry. We're good guys. We won't enforce the rules in an unreasonable way' -- and maybe this body won't. But what about the next one? This is a fluid body, and the rules, if enacted, could very well be there ten years from now, when the body is very different."

Since Golden sent out his letter, he says he's heard from a council member he doesn't identify who isn't enthusiastic about the guidelines, either. This response gives him hope that the council as a whole will back away from the additional limitations.

"It's okay to have reasonable time, place and manner restrictions," he says. "But not these."

Page down to read Golden's letter to the city council:


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