Earlier this week I told you about a proposed ordinance to limit the right to assemble in the privacy of one’s own home. It could have a chilling effect on home Bible studies and is a grave and fundamental violation of the Constitution.
Last night I spoke at a community meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in opposition to the proposed regulation, explaining how it would not only violate the Constitution and Virginia law but smacks of the worst kind of government overreach.
Fairfax County residents turned out in full force to the first of three meetings on the proposal, overwhelmingly in opposition to the measure.
The proposed ordinance would limit the number of people allowed to assemble in the privacy of one’s home to 49, no more than three times in a 40 day period.
Fairfax County staff claim they are trying to address noise and parking complaints, but Fairfax County ordinances already address those issues. As I explained, if individuals are illegally parking, trespassing, or causing a noise disturbance, the County can issue them a citation.
Unbelievably, the Fairfax County staff at the meeting agreed that it did have noise and parking ordinances that it could enforce, but that there was no regulation on the books to control the size of gatherings. As shocking as that sounds, the government admitted that the real reason it needed to issue a regulation was merely because it hadn’t regulated it yet.
It is a stunning reminder of President Ronald Reagan’s famous summation of government’s philosophy, “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
I explained to the Fairfax County officials that this regulation not only violates free assembly rights but directly violates Virginia law and the religious liberty of those who hold Bible studies in their homes, including myself.
As I stated at the meeting, the Supreme Court has specifically held that it would be a direct violation of the Constitution for an ordinance “to make criminal the exercise of the right of assembly simply because its exercise may be ‘annoying’ to some people.”
That’s exactly what this proposed ordinance aims to do, I explained, and “What you cannot do is regulate individuals' right to assemble within the privacy of his own home.”
Thankfully, the people of Fairfax County realize the gravity of this assault on our rights and came out in full force to oppose the regulation. And at least one member of the Board of Supervisors, Pat Herrity, raised a red flag, saying, “It is government poking its nose where it doesn't belong.”
The county has two more community meetings scheduled in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, the community outrage will lead to this absurd, blatantly unconstitutional, and clearly not thought-out proposal’s end. At the ACLJ, we’ll continue to follow this issue.
The right to assembly should be nowhere more protected than in the privacy of our own homes, and home Bible studies are no threat to any community.
Matthew Clark is Associate Counsel for Government Affairs and Media Advocacy with the ACLJ. A lifelong citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lives with his wife and three boys in Northern Virginia. Follow Matthew Clark: @_MatthewClark.