ACLU Says Anne Arundel County Council Chairman Grasso is Unlawfully Censoring Public Comments Critical of County Council Members
For Immediate Release: _Tuesday, Sept 4, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, MD - Taking action on behalf of Anne Arundel County residents Peter Cane, Yasemin Jamison, and members of the Caucus of African American Leaders, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has sent a letter to Anne Arundel County Council Chairman John Grasso protesting his improper censorship of public comments at County Council meetings. The ACLU letter says that his enforcement of Council Rule 4-106, which prohibits making "personal, defamatory, or profane remarks," to prohibit criticism of County Council members, violates the First Amendment.
"Criticism of public officials lies at the heart of speech protected by the First Amendment," said David Rocah, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. "Courts consistently find that rules like the one enforced by Grasso that prohibits critical comments about public officials at meetings of public bodies are either unconstitutionally overbroad or discriminate based on viewpoint."
The ACLU letter details two past Council meetings where improper censorship has occurred. On April 3, 2017, during the public comment portion of the Council meeting, Peter Cane attempted to read a statement concerning Councilman Michael Peroutka's past membership in the League of the South, a white supremacist organization. Grasso interrupted Mr. Cane's statement and told him that he was not allowed to "badger a councilman," and prohibited him from making his statement.
The second incident occurred during the Council's June 5, 2017 meeting, during the discussion of Resolution 22-17, introduced by Councilman Peter Smith to condemn messages and acts of racism and white supremacy in the wake of Sean Christopher Urbanski's murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, III the prior month, as well as an incident where two men hung a noose outside of Crofton Middle School. Collins, an African American graduating senior in the ROTC program at Bowie State University, was stabbed to death in College Park by Urbanski, a white Severna Park resident and student at University of Maryland, on May 20, in an unprovoked attack. Urbanski was a member of a now disbanded white supremacist Facebook group called Alt-Reich: Nation.
During the public comments on the resolution, Yasemin Jamison sought to again mention Councilman Peroutka's membership in the League of the South, in connection with his initial opposition to the resolution, and his public statement that he had "always denounced racism."
Grasso again interrupted the speaker, and prevented her from making her statement, telling her that no personal or defamatory remarks were allowed pursuant to Council Rule 4-106. Later during the same discussion, Peter Cane again sought to speak about Mr. Peroutka's membership in the League of the South, and Grasso again interrupted him, telling him that he could not attack other members of the Council, could not mention Mr. Peroutka's name, and could not make his statement, relying again on Rule 4-106.
VIDEO of Grasso repeatedly reading from a prepared statement to defend his position prohibiting personal remarks: http://www.aacounty.org/departments/county-council/Council