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Can Angry people speak up at an open meeting?




Saw an interesting article in the Dallas Observer this morning, in which the Collin College board of trustees discussed not allowing "Anger, obscene or profane language, ridicule, personal attacks, and disruptive conduct are not acceptable behavior during the public comment period" 

Up for discussion is whether a body should have rules of decorum that prevent  personal attacks and disruptive conduct (would you want a person dressed like a Nazi parading around in front of the dais? , at least as long as every single person involved ALSO doesn't engage in this.  I pretty much hate when the moderator of a public meeting does not maintain order, or allows others, including elected officials to harass people.

There's a high chance that a person attending an open meeting just might be angry at what the body is proposing. Adam Steinbaugh works for FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education




Collin College’s administration has adopted a “shoot first and then ask if it’s constitutional later” approach, Steinbaugh said. If a constituent comes before the government and demonstrates they’re angry, and that’s used as the basis to silence them, it’s viewpoint discrimination.

Such a subjective policy is a slippery slope to censorship, he said.


HB2840, which was signed into law in 2019 


Right to Speak at Open Meeting:  applies to local governmental bodies, including cities (but not state agencies), and provides that: (1) a governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item; (2) a governmental body may adopt reasonable rules regarding the public’s right to address the body, including rules that limit the total amount of time that a member of the public may address the body on a given item; (3) only if a governmental body does not use simultaneous translation equipment in a manner that allows the body to hear the translated public testimony simultaneously, a rule adopted under (2) that limits the amount of time that a member of the public may address the governmental body must provide that a member of the public who addresses the body through a translator must be given at least twice the amount of time as a member of the public who does not require the assistance of a translator in order to ensure that non-English speakers receive the same opportunity to address the body; and (4) a governmental body may not prohibit public criticism of the governmental body, including criticism of any act, omission, policy, procedure, program, or service, unless the public criticism is otherwise prohibited by law.  (Effective September 1, 2019.)

Again, you can't tell people to be all smiley and happy and suppress angry feelings. 

Also discussed in the Dallas Observer article is Lora Burnett, who lost her job because she tweeted something disparaging about Mike Pence (Hey, at least she didn't erect a noose and try to hang him!) Especially on a college campus, teachers and anyone should be hailed for having freedom of speech and not be fired for it. Neil Matkin, president of the college, apparently enjoys his own freedom of speech, including disparaging people. 


In April, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Matkin had once put a bowl on his head to impersonate his Jewish predecessor. He has also made racist and sexist remarks during college events, Friauf said, but leadership hasn’t issued “one public syllable" to condemn such actions.

The US Supreme Court just ruled in favor of a high school girl who cursed on social media about the school's cheerleading squad. 20-255 Mahanoy Area School Dist. v. B. L. (06/23/2021) (supremecourt.gov) The principle of free speech, including possibly unpopular speech are addressed. 



It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary. See Tyson & Brother v. Banton, 273 U. S. 418, 447 (1927) (Holmes, J., dissenting). “We cannot lose sight of the fact that, in what otherwise might seem a trifling and annoying instance of individual distasteful abuse of a privilege, these fundamental societal values are truly implicated.” Cohen, 403 U. S., at 25.




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