“And they would, I think, be peaceable assembly protected by the First Amendment, even in a time of epidemic.”
First Amendment victory in Kansas
Derrick Sowers, a resident in Osage County, Kansas, was considering attending a local Easter Parade when it was abruptly cancelled by the Osage County Health Department. According to reports, the Health Department deemed the parade to be in violation of the stay at home orders.
At that time, there were only four positive confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of more than 17,000 residents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous stress and anxiety. For that reason, car parades have become increasingly popular.
On behalf of Mr. Sowers, Kansas Justice Institute sent a letter to the Osage County Health Department on April 20, 2020, making it clear a wholesale ban on car parades and cruising was unconstitutional, even during a pandemic.
“Courts have been crystal clear for almost a century: any prior restraint of expression and speech bears a heavy presumption of invalidity. A wholesale prohibition against “joyriding” and “cruising” raises serious constitutional issues. It implicates the right to freely speak, assemble, and travel, among other things not discussed here. In our view, the Osage County Health Department’s ban, as written, is unconstitutional.”
The issue with car parades is not whether it’s an essential activity or not. It’s whether wholesale bans are unconstitutional. The government cannot unilaterally and preemptively ban car parades, especially when people are socially distancing. Even during a pandemic, the First Amendment protects car parades.
The Osage County Health Department quickly resolved the issue by agreeing to three proposals submitted by the Kansas Justice Institute on April 21, 2020.
KJI congratulated the Osage County Health Department for ultimately doing the right thing and for remedying the situation so quickly. Their dedication to public health and the United States Constitution should be applauded.