At last night’s Nashua Board of Aldermen meeting, the aldermen debated an ordinance to put new restrictions on public comment at public meetings. They discussed banning public comment that is “rude or profane.” City Attorney Steve Bolton warned the alderman that such a ban could be ruled unconstitutional.
He spoke at length about how the public comment period is a public forum. Once a public forum is opened for speech, the content of that speech can’t be restricted except for narrow provisions such as barring excessive shouting or threats.
Listening to Steve Bolton speak last night, I was struck by how he appeared to be almost quoting from the letter that my attorney sent to Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess appealing the Mayor’s decision to remove my Save Women’s Sports flag from the Citizen Flag Pole.
Quoting from the appeal letter:
The Citizen Flag Pole is clearly a “designated public forum.” The City government specifically provides public property and invites citizens to provide flags to be flown on the pole. In order to justify your censorship of Ms. Scaer based on the message on her flag, you must be able to prove that your action was taken pursuant to an ordinance that is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.
Given the complete absence of an Ordinance providing any guidance whatsoever on this subject matter, there is no possible way that your actions can meet this standard. It simply appears that you, or some of your constituents, disapproved of the message advocated by Ms. Scaer and you decided to censor her expression as a result. The plainly unconstitutional actions you took in removing Ms. Scaer’s flag represents a clear constitutional violation that should not be permitted to stand.
That letter must have been very much on Steve Bolton’s mind because the Mayor would have had him review the appeal letter and must have asked him to figure out a way for the City to avoid being compelled to put my flag back up.
The City Attorney’s speech made very clear where he stands on the unconstitutionality of restricting content in public forums, of which removing the Save Women’s Sports flag on the Citizen Flag Pole is a perfect example.
Now the question is, how long will it take the Mayor to comply with the New Hampshire and US Constitution and put back my flag on the Citizen Flag Pole?