Nanny state of the week: Fairfax, VA, wants to limit the right to assemble

Part 4 of 4 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

What’s that the First Amendment says about the ability of individuals to do as they please?

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble….”

WE’RE HAVING A PARTY: Just keep the guest list under 50 or else the city government in Fairfax, Va., wants to know about it.

Someone needs to inform policymakers in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax, Va., that limiting the size of gatherings has never been considered sound policy in these United States.

Allow my colleague Ken Ward to explain:

The proposed zoning ordinance limits “group assembly” at residences to 49 people a day. Such gatherings “shall not occur more frequently than three times in any 40-day period.”

County officials say they have received complaints about group meetings at homes.

How many complaints? According to Pat Herrity, a city supervisor, Fairfax’s Department of Code Compliance received a grand total of six complaints about large gatherings last year, which works out to less than 1 percent of all complaints received by the department.

In other words, once every two months last year, one of the 23,000 residents of Fairfax threw a big party. Clearly, something must be done to bring order to this madness.

Like most seemingly well-intentioned efforts to limit individuals’ rights, this one has its share of unintended consequences.

Church groups, scouting organizations and even sports fans who like to have a bunch of friends over for the Super Bowl could be targeted by the proposed law.

Herrity said it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

John Whitehead, an attorney and president of the civil-libertarian Rutherford Institute, told Ward the effort is “nefarious” because it shows the city government assumes private property belongs to it, rather than to individual owners.

For their efforts to regulate the size of community gatherings and limit the right to peacefully assemble, the city government of Fairfax wins this week’s Watchdog Nanny State award. Its prize is never getting invited to another Super Bowl party — ever.

Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org. Follow @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Top