COLUMBUS, Kan. – The City’s decision changed, but before that, many residents were upset after Columbus Police posted to social media, telling them a cruise night to honor High School seniors would not be allowed.
On April 8, a day before the scheduled cruise, the Police Department posted in part, “the activities of cruise nights, car cruises and/or car parades will not be allowed in the City of Columbus” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residents were also informed that Columbus City Police had the authority to enforce non-compliant activities.
Samuel G. MacRoberts with the Kansas Justice Institution, the legal arm of the Kansas Policy Institute, sent a letter to the city on April 9, the same day Columbus Council held a special meeting.
The letter noted that the city’s order was worded in such a way to prohibit a family driving down the street with their windows open and playing music.
“This raises First Amendment issues. The City of Columbus had no business preventing families from driving down Main Street on a cruise night, so long as social distancing was observed. Courts have been clear for nearly a century: prior restraint of speech is presumed invalid”, said MacRoberts. I’m glad the City changed course, not all do”, said MacRoberts.
On April 9, after the council’s special meeting, the City issued a re-statement of its Facebook post:
“The intention behind the above statement was purely to keep our residents safe and not ill intended. We are here to serve the citizens of Columbus and we are doing everything we can to make the best decisions for our community in such uncertain times. Concerns addressed before issuing the above statement included the potential of groups gathering during the cruise (getting out of cars and increased unnecessary foot traffic) and the mixing of people from different households in vehicles. Our goal is to not create another vector for the virus to spread but at the same time, stand behind our residents in efforts that build community support. The benefit of having the event did not outweigh the cost of potentially spreading the virus to even just one person which led to our initial decision.