Ohio statehouse protestors have right to gather, no right to spread virus, says former judge

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — You’ve likely seen the images of angry demonstrators crammed together outside the statehouse, protesting Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order. 

This is labeled “free speech” as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Taking your protest to the doors of government.

But the protesters are also clearly defying the state’s stay at home and social distancing orders and often spreading messages of hate.

So questions are raised about when the government can curtail speech and how reporters can safely cover people who are putting public health at risk. 

And a warning, there is an anti-Semitic image in the video above, and it’s being shown because this man wants us to.

“Personally, I reject that idea,” said Ron Solove, a former Franklin County judge and retired law professor. “I think you stand up at the beginning and you remain standing up.”

NBC 4’s Colleen Marshall has texted several times over the past few days with demonstrators who said they are voicing the frustration of small business owners who are facing financial ruin because of the state’s stay at home public health order.

But, with anti-semtic signs, Confederate flags and rifles, that message is sometimes hijacked, and none of those who say they are worried about the economy would appear on camera to answer questions about the symbols of hate at their side.

Columbus Police broke up off-campus parties and playground basketball games.

But demonstrators defy distancing orders from the state and city health directors with no consequences.

When asked if the distancing orders are being enforced by police, Columbus Public Health Director Dr. Mysheika Roberts said, “That’s a great question and you kind of caught me off guard there. You know, I think we have to remember people do have the freedom of speech and I’ve heard the governor mention that as well.”

Solove said there are misconceptions about how free speech is to be protected..

“Government has a right to regulate speech to some extent,” he said. “It’s a hackneyed expression, but you can’t holler fire in a crowded theater, and you ought not to be able to cast viruses in a crowded space. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Solove believes as the protesters begin to gather, they should be warned at the outset that they must maintain social distancing and must wear masks.

Their lives could be protected, along with their right to free speech, even when its hateful.

“My grandparents came here from Europe,” Solove said. “They thought and believed and lived that they had found a safe placed and it’s shocking and sad to find that perhaps this is not a safe place.”

NBC4 is covering the statehouse demonstrations from a distance for two reasons:  so that we do not inadvertently use the public airwaves to show symbols of hate, and to protect our photographers and reporters by not exposing them to a crowd of people who are deliberately violating the state’s COVID-19 health rules.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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