Craven County vs. FREE SPEECH

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by Raynor James

Historically, citizens have

been able to sign up before the regular (once monthly) evening meetings of the Craven County Board of Commissioners and be called on to speak (in the order in which they signed up) at a very early point in the Board’s proceedings. The comments were to be “germane to Craven County” (fair enough), and the citizen had 4 minutes in which to speak (short, but not outrageously so).

However, there have been “things said” and “complaints filed about them” resulting in the Craven County Board of Commissioners’ proposing AND UNFORTUNATELY

PASSING new rules governing citizens’ comments in an effort to control what citizens say. FREE SPEECH IS UNDER ATTACK IN CRAVEN COUNTY AND THE BAD GUYS ARE WINNING, BUT THERE’S A RAY OF HOPE.

On Monday, April 1, the Craven Board voted to reduce the time for citizens to speak from 4 minutes to 3 minutes. Comments pertaining to agenda items will still be heard early in the Board’s proceedings, but comments about other things which are “directly under the legislative jurisdiction of the Board” will be delayed until the end of the meeting, and any subjects germane to Craven County but outside the scope of these limitations are forbidden.

Now for a little history and a little speculation.

A Baptist minister, Ray Griffin, frequently petitions the Board of Commissioners. His beliefs are very Biblical and his view of the Bible is literal, not allegorical. He has no use for homosexuality (among other things) and is clear about it.

However, I believe he talks against the sin, not the sinner (as he and indeed most Baptists view them).

Many of the earliest people from Europe who settled in America were motivated to come here in order to be able to practice their religion freely, and the right of people to do just that has been and is a cornerstone of American belief.

When Ray Griffin petitioned the Board at his last opportunity prior to April 1st, he was admonished about using the words “Democrat,” “Republican,” and “Muslim.” This prohibition alarmed Ray Griffin and many other people, CCTA members among them.

Now, fast forward to April

  1. A number of speakers signed up to speak for and against the proposed changes in the rules relative to citizens’ petitions to the Board. At first, all the speakers spoke against the changes.

I spoke against the changes. One of the things I mentioned was the prohibition against using the word, “Muslim,” but I did so without actually using the word.

Instead, I talked about our belief in religious freedom, and pointed out that each person is free to practice his or her religion. However, there is one religion that is practiced in America that will not separate itself from a set of foreign laws. I pointed out

that when people of that religious faith first arrive in an area, they have dispensation to more or less “go along to get along.” However, when they reach critical mass, they insist on imposing their laws on Americans, and those laws are not compatible with the ideas in our Declaration of Independence and are in direct conflict with our U.S. Constitution. There are places in the upper mid-west of these United States where this law is currently forced on Americans. I pointed out that if a citizen noticed this type of progression in Craven County, he or she might want to bring it to the attention of the Board of Commissioners.

I think I got my concern across, but if I had felt free to say “Muslim” and “Sharia Law,” it would have taken a lot less time, and with the time limit going from 4 minutes to 3 minutes, that matters.

There is also a prohibition against “repetitiveness,” which is prohibited both during one comment period and by appearing and petitioning at a series of meetings. This is not a change; it was part of the rules prior to April 1, but it is still a bad rule.

Suppose you want to reduce the size, scope, and cost of government, and you observe that the Board of Commissioners makes decisions that increase all 3 things time after time. Is it fair that you can only mention your point of view once?

If the Board is repetitive, why can’t you be?

Further, repetition can help make a point. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was very repetitive. It was also beautifully poetic, made points well, and was very effective. It is inappropriate for the Board of Commissioners to deny the tools of persuasion to citizens.

When the “pro rules changes” speakers arrived on the scene, they spoke of being offended, hurt, and embarrassed by what other speakers had said and they wanted such offensive speech stopped. They didn’t think religion should be discussed at Commissioners’ meetings. Most of these speakers were Democrats.

Then something different happened. The next woman who spoke said she might surprise us. She identified herself as a Democrat and said some of the things that had been said were unpleasant and she didn’t like them, but even so, she thought that people with whom she disagreed had a perfect right to say what they wanted to say. Wow! She did surprise me. In a good way. She was willing to tolerate speech she didn’t like because others have a right to express themselves as they choose.

That got me thinking. We were witnessing a clash of cultures, and one element of it didn’t want the other element to freely express itself, but here was a woman “on the other side” of much of what I believe who is willing to recognize my right to express myself.  I think she’s onto something.

If we allow “political correctness” and “rules” to shut down a free flow of ideas, we’ll always separate ourselves into armed camps of “we” and “they.” If we talk frankly and freely, we may find points on which we can agree.  I’ve got a feeling that we Americans still share much in common; I hope so.

Commissioner E.T. Mitchell made the motion to adopt the new rules.  Commissioner Theron McCabe seconded her motion.

Commissioner Jason Jones spoke against the motion. One got the impression that he was somewhat conflicted, but thought that opposing the motion was the right thing to do.

Commissioner Denny Bucher said he didn’t like comments that had nothing to do with the agenda and things the Board could do. He also said he’d heard some disagreeable comments since being on the Board and that he didn’t think we should talk about religion, but he said he was going to vote against the proposed rules changes.

An observation here…

Some citizens date the decline of our schools to our taking God out of them, and some citizens believe the Board can influence things they cannot directly legislate.

Commissioner Tom Mark commented, “Nobody is against using the words ‘Democrat,’ ‘Republican,’ or ‘Muslim;’ it’s just the way they do it.”

Commissioner E.T. Mitchell commented, “It is no one’s objective to infringe on free speech, but that’s free speech, not hate speech.

Chairman George Liner replied, “Hate speech is protected so long as it doesn’t inspire a riot.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he understands the concept.

When the vote to make the limiting changes to the rules regarding how citizens can make comments was taken, Commissioners Theron McCabe, Johnny Sampson, Tom Mark, E. T. Mitchell, and George Liner voted in favor.  Commissioners Jason Jones and Denny Bucher voted against.

Free speech is no longer treated properly in Craven; I hope the situation can be appropriately dealt with and overcome.