COLUMBUS — After issuing an order in response to the coronavirus crisis that would have prevented residents from participating in a cruise night to recognize local high school seniors, the City of Columbus backed off last week.
“Residents were also informed that Columbus City Police had the authority to enforce non-compliant activities,” a press release from the Kansas Policy Institute noted.
“The cruise night ban was issued even though it was not planned for anyone to leave their cars,” according to the Sentinel, a publication of the KPI.
Samuel MacRoberts, litigation director and general counsel for Kansas Justice Institute, the legal arm of the KPI, sent a letter to the city April 9 questioning the city’s order and saying it raised First Amendment issues.
“Politicians don’t get to decide whether free speech is ‘essential’ or not,” MacRoberts told the Sentinel. “Free speech is a constitutional right.”
MacRoberts added that the city “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.”
The same day MacRoberts sent the letter, the Columbus City Council met for more than an hour in a special session to discuss the event, before issuing a new statement saying that while the event was not encouraged, it would be allowed.
“I’m glad the city changed course. Not all do. Most dig in and fight the indefensible. I credit their leadership for making the right decision,” MacRoberts said in the KPI release. “At this time, we’re seeing more and more local governments crossing the constitutional line. That’s unacceptable, even during a pandemic.”