Virginia’s ACLU is asking Governor Ralph Northam to move the state’s Robert E. Lee statue. The request came during a public hearing Wednesday in Richmond.
The meeting was an opportunity for the public to comment on regulations governing protests at the statue. Bill Farrar, with the ACLU of Virginia, says they’re overly restrictive.
“The Governor could use his executive power to have the Lee monument removed from the state property where it is now located," he said. "If the Lee monument were not located where it is now there would be no need for these onerous and potentially unconstitutional regulations regarding the use of the grounds surrounding it.”
After the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe put in place emergency regulations around the state-owned Confederate monument in Richmond. Now the state is now considering making those regulations permanent.
Any group larger than ten needs a permit to gather on the green space around the Lee Monument. The regulations also close the monument overnight, bans signs or posters, and limits events to two hours. Weapons, including guns, are also prohibited.
Katherine Jordan, a nearby resident and member of the Fan District Association, says those rules made sense in the wake of August 12 -- when things were really tense. But she no longer thinks they’re necessary.
“The climate we’re in now is not the same when the emergency regulations were made,” Jordan said. “I think these regulations go too far. They impede freedom of assembly.”
Jordan was one of just a small handful of people to speak at the public comment meeting Wednesday. The state will be accepting comment through March 8th.
Farrar says since the August 12th rally, the issue of permiting and regulating events around Confederate monuments has been a statewide issue.
“Localities are going to have to struggle with this same issue - how do we permit? How do we balance public safety and the right to free expression?” Farrar explained, speaking after the meeting.
Part of the issue is that the Lee Monument is at a busy intersection, in the middle a residential neighborhood. But, as Farrar points out, the statue doesn’t have to be there.
“The Governor has the authority to remove it and do anything he wants with that property if he deems it as not needed,” he said.
In an interview after the recent blackface scandal, Governor Ralph Northam told The Washington Post he is willing to take a harder line on Confederate statues.