Residents of the warm, year-round climate of Palm Beach, Florida, regularly stay outside during the late evening, unless they happen to be under the age 18. A local curfew law bars those under 18 from being outside past 10 pm weeknights and 11 pm weekends, unless, one is exercising first amendment rights, including the right to peaceably assemble. Confusing, isn’t it? The National Youth Rights Association of Southeast Florida sued the city to repeal the law they claim contains a First Amendment exception that, in the words of their star attorney, “swallows” the law.
In a letter to the city, the attorney for the Youth Rights Group takes the time to provide a quick, First AmendmentÂ lesson to a City Council that is supposed to understand their ultimate charter for existence.
“The ordinance contains the following exception, ‘Attending orÂ traveling directly to or from an activity that involves the exercise of rightsÂ protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.’ TheseÂ rights include freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association.Â “These [First Amendment] rights are implicated in any type of activity one can imagine in theÂ downtown area, since minors in the curfew area will engage in speech and seekÂ to associate with whomever they choose.”
The Youth Rights Group posted all legal documents related to the case, providing a helpful guide on how to sue a city council for repeal of a curfew. The documents include letters to the city, court papers, and press releases.
Courts across the country have struck down city curfews for violating the first amendment rights of teenagers. Most city councils respond by passing a new law including a first amendment exception. The laws acknowledge the First Amendment, but the city continues to arrest people for peaceably assembling or speaking (to their friends). This Palm Beach court case represents an important and long-overdue counter attack.
Had the authors of the Constitution used shorter sentences and bullet points, there might not be as much confusion about the amendments. For example, the U.S. federal government and many state governments have used the 18th century wording of the second amendment to remove the right of people to arm themselves against their government by claiming the right to bear arms only applies to members of a state-government militia. Â The text is as follows, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In an action sure to have English teachers bear arms, legislatures and their courts (separation of powers is a myth) have used the introductory clause, “a well regulated militia,” to nullify the amendment’s main clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Consider this sentence, “A person may play a violin and attend a concert.” This does not mean a person may play a violin only while attending a concert. The “and” in the sentence merely allows the phrase “A person” to modify “play a violin” and “attend a concert.”A person may play a violin and a person may attend a concert.
Local legislatures need another English lesson about the First Amendment. Â 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.
Let’s focus on the last portion: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This means people have the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for redress of grievances. They do not have to do both at the same time. If they did, then a single person would not be able to petition the government in writing–a person would have to assemble first, then petition the government. Similarly, a person does not need to petition the government in order to peaceably assemble. A person may peaceably assemble simply because the person wants to assemble. The First Amendment was written to prevent governments from doing exactly what they are doing to teenagers: imposing martial law and keeping them in their homes.
Fast forwarding two hundred plus years, let’s adopt contemporary vernacular to the First Amendment: people (including teenagers) have the right to stand anywhere on public land at any time. In short, they may peaceably assemble. They don’t need to protest the government. They can talk about movies, music, or anything else on their minds. They can also remain silent and just hang out and enjoy a warm night in Palm Beach.
Take Action! Sue your city over your local curfew law. Find a local lawyer who sued the your city or state government and see if the lawyer will take your case. TheÂ FloridaÂ activists found an attorney who successfully helped overturn a law barring feeding the homeless in city parks. Try contacting civil liberties law firms such as the Institute for Justice and the ACLU. Lawyers may be more inclined to take the case since they can reference the Florida case documents.