Free Speech Group Calls Bay City Commission Meeting Rules Unconstitutional

Ordinances governing behavior at Bay City Commission meetings have come under fire after claims they violate residents’ First Amendment rights.

In an open letter to Mayor Kathleen Newsham and the Bay City Commission, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) claims language in the Rules of the Commission section of the city Code of Ordinances would allow the governing body to restrict speech from public comment. FIRE says since Rule 12 of the ordinance prohibits “derogatory comments directed at another person,” it stops certain views being expressed at a public forum.

The organization also points to an amendment from earlier this year which gave the meeting’s chair the authority to stop someone from talking who is speaking out of order, using vulgarities, or demeaning city officials or employees, among other things. FIRE says the rule is too broad and open to interpretation, and therefore could be abused to silence certain voices. The group says Supreme Court decisions in the past actually protect such speech.

The commission passed the resolution in March after multiple meetings were disrupted by outbursts from audience members, public speakers, and members of the commission.