San Antonio City Council has approved sweeping new protections and opportunities for free speech, ending a year of debate over what should be required of people who want to stage demonstrations on public property, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Jolene Garcia of the Free Speech Coalition says City red tape has stifled free expession under the First Amendment in San Antonio for decades, and got worse after the city was home to huge pro immigration rallies in the last decade.
"A lot of speech has been silenced," she said of additions to public demonstration restrictions imposed in 2006 and 2007. "When they went to the Police Department for a permit, they were told it would be thousands of dollars, and they couldn't afford that, so they had to decide not to march."
Garcia says the issue came to a head in January of 2017, when President Trump announced a plan to restrict travel to the U.S. from several mostly Muslim nations. People all around the country flocked to airports to stage protests, but not in San Antonio.
"Moms and their children went to the airport last year to have their voice heard on immigration restrictions imposed on the federal level," she said. "They were threatened with arrest, and that has not been uncommon."
The new rules drastically open the city's public spaces, from the Airport to the Alamodome to the Convention Center. They reduce fees for public protests, allow 'Free Speech Zones' to be established at the facilities, and allow a quick turnaround time for applications to demonstrate to be approved.
And the new rules take the Police Department out of the loop when it comes to approving demonstrations, with the exception of demonstrations that would require traffic to be directed. Many groups said they were uncomfortable with the Police deciding who can and who can't stage protests
."Truly, what is happening here is you have an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless," Amy Contreras of the Free Speech Coalition said. "I can't think of a better way to promote San Antonio than to promote the free speech of its citizens."