Want to protest? Buy a permit

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Groups or individuals wanting to hold a public demonstration in Isle of Wight County will now have to apply for a permit.

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Thursday unanimously approved a new public demonstration ordinance that covers gatherings on public property.

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The new ordinance does not pertain to private property or areas within the towns of Smithfield or Windsor. It also comes with caveats, such as being limited to demonstrations that include 50 or more people that had prior planning. 

It does not include recreational activities, such as cyclists on a public roadway, funeral processions, door-to-door sales or advocacy, or students participating in educational activities. 

The proposed ordinance would prohibit certain items from being at the demonstration, such as axes, nun chucks, tasers, stun guns, paint ball guns, metal pipes, knives, bear spray, heavy chains, catapults, razor blades, military-like uniforms, among many other objects. 

Not prohibited are pistols, rifles or semi-automatic weapons — weapons that fire bullets — as those are protected by the Virginia Constitution, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson. 

The ordinance was in response to the deadly white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville. 

Prior to this ordinance, the county did not have any guidelines for public demonstrations, just music festivals. 

A fee, yet to be determined, will be part of the permit application and will cover administrative costs of processing. Isle of Wight County attorney Mark Popovich suggested two possible fees, $50 or $100, and which would need to be added to the county’s fee schedule. 

If the fee is burdensome, it could be perceived as impeding freedom of speech, which is protected by the First Amendment, said Popovich.