Well, here’s the other shoe to fall in the developing story of Piscataway Council’s attempt to stop a resident from streaming a public council meeting using Facebook Live a few days ago; ACLU-NJ is informing Piscataway by letter to the Council President that the public has a right to film their public meetings. That they should stop trying to enforce their ordinance they think forbids it, and guarantee the resident they threatened – Stacy Berger, who wrote about it here at Blue Jersey – won’t face sanction. That their local ordinance is not in compliance with New Jersey law. Frankly, they should already have known this. And if they didn’t, should have taken it seriously when a smart person in the audience informed them of it – – particularly since Council had their lawyer 4 feet away and could have, you know, looked it up. Always err on the side of free speech, transparency & accountability, not on the side of control and secrecy, and know the laws that require that of you. I hope Council saves themselves the headache and their residents some money by paying attention. ACLU-NJ is offering them good, free advice that they should take: Fix the ordinance; failure to do exposes you to civil action.
I’ve been through something like this with ACLU-NJ, about 10 years ago when a friend was arrested during a small protest organized by a group I ran. ACLU-NJ was in it within hours, informed my town of their misstep and outdated ordinance, and that they would protect our rights. My town then proceeded to dig in, spend tens of thousands of the taxpayers’ money defending their ordinance … and in the end adopted the ordinance ACLU recommended. Trust me, when ACLU tells you your local rules aren’t compliant with the public’s civil rights, just save yourself and listen. That’s to you, Piscataway. See you at TAPE IN Piscataway next Tuesday night.
Here’s Staci on what happened. To best view the letter, click the 4 arrows at the bottom to enlarge it.
Disclosure: As I’ve written before, I live with a board member of ACLU-NJ. Better believe I’d be writing about this if I didn’t, just the same.