Two Florida cities may have violated the First Amendment to the US Constitution with recent actions taken against local citizens. Those two cities are Venice and Winter Park, Florida.
The First Amendment reads, “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.”
The City of Venice, Florida may have violated the First Amendment ” free exercise” clause when it fined Shane and Marlene Roessiger for holding a Bible study class in their home. Bethany Monk in her Citizen Link column, “Florida Town Threatens Family Over Bible Studies” reports:
The city of Venice, Fla., says a family that welomes six to 10 people in their home for a Friday night prayer meeting is breaking the law — and if the meetings continue, they could be forced to pay stiff penalties.
City officials say Shane and Marlene Roessiger’s group, called In Him Ministries, violates a city code prohibiting a “house of worship” from meeting on property that is less than 2.49 acres in size.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), told CitizenLink the city is violating the family’s rights.
“This nation was built upon people being able to gather and pray and have Bible studies in their homes,” Dacus said. “Many churches are founded upon that as the beginning of their churches. For cities to be allowed to get away with this is totalitarian.”
Venice City Code Enforcement Officials are also threatening the family with fines of $250 per day for having a small sign in their yard that reads “Need Prayer?” followed by the family’s phone number. The code makes exceptions for political signs, however, which are present throughout the neighborhood.
Dacus said PJI will represent the Roessigers free of charge. “And we will do so until we [receive] final justice on their behalf,” he said.
The City of Winter Park, Florida may have violated the First Amendment “right to peaceably assemble” clause when the City Commission voted to shut down most if not all protests within fifty feet of any home and outlaw protests in any residential area. Freedom Outpost in its column City Prepares To Outlaw First Amendment reports:
Winter Park, Florida’s City Commission gave a preliminary approval to make an “emergency public safety ordinance” permanent. It would effectively shut down most if not all protests within fifty feet of any home and no ability to protest in a residential area. This is the First Amendment under attack.
The ban comes after pro-life protestors picketed the home of a notable resident on August 18. Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando CEO Jenna Tosh said, “I literally had to push through these folks who were carrying massive protest signs and signs that said, ‘Jenna Tosh kills babies and hurts women.’”
That night the Commission passed and emergency 60-day ordinance that banned protesting in residential areas. Then on September 10 they voted to make that ordinance permanent.
Isaac Babcock from the Winter Park/Maitland Observer reports, “The 4-1 vote, which was opposed on the Commission by Mayor Ken Bradley, grabbed the interest of a local constitutional lawyer, who said the city went ‘way too far’ to stop anyone from protesting within 50 feet of a residential home in the city. Attorney and UCF political science instructor Derek Brett said the ordinance would ban protesting in ‘huge swaths of the city,’ referring to it as ‘unconstitutionally overboard’.”
City attorneys claim the ordinance will hold up in court. They cite Frisby v. Schultz that was decided by the Supreme Court in 1988. The Court ruled 6-3 that the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and protest was not violated when the the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburb of Brookfield passed an ordinance banning protests outside the home of Dr. Victoria, who performed abortions.