New rules for public comment has people fearing for their First Amendment Rights

Posted at 10:30 PM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-13 06:43:28-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. -- Are 1st Amendment rights being stepped on? That's the feeling people have in Cape Coral after talks of a new civility pledge being the new standard at city council meetings.

The city council is following the lead of the Lee County School Board, but it has people in Cape Coral rushing to the microphone before theirs are shut off.

"City Council limiting our ability to have free speech, to be able to speak what we believe in and are passionate about," said Paul Barnes, who has lived in the Cape since 1990.

Barnes is passionate about what Cape Coral Mayor Marni Retzer read aloud to the audience before its meeting: a civility pledge. The pledge tells those who take the podium to stick to the issues and avoid getting personal.

"The council wants to limit us being able to say anything that might be deemed offensive," said Barnes.

Councilwoman Marilyn Stout supports the pledge and doesn't believe it infringes on any 1st Amendment rights to free speech.  "It's a move to become more professional, and I think everyone on council agrees with that," said Stout.

Barnes believes public servants should be able to shake off some comments.  "You are in politics, you need to have a thick skin, we elect you to do a job and be good at it, and tough at it. not to get offended and hurt feelings over what somebody said about you," said Barnes.

People who took to turns to speak out against the pledge fear it might set a new standard.

"What's next? What's to stop the Cape Coral Police Department from busting down your front door taking you into jail without a warrant. I mean where does it stop? Once you take away one freedom, when do the rest of the freedoms erode," said Barnes.

Cape City Council quick to tell all in attendance they welcome public comment. The members invited those with concerns to contact them and visit them during office hours.