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Judge: N.C. county can’t ban all protests around courthouse

GRAHAM, N.C. (AP) — Officials in a central North Carolina county can’t bar all protests around the local courthouse, including near where a Confederate monument stands, a federal judge has ruled.
The Alamance County chapter of the NAACP and eight individuals were successful in obtaining an order preventing the sheriff’s department from further enforcing a policy that prevents the public from gathering on the courthouse steps, grounds and surrounding sidewalks.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, who signed the preliminary injunction on Friday, said the plaintiffs were likely to be successful in arguing their First Amendment rights were being violated.
Alamance County officials “imposed a total prohibition on protests in the traditional public forum of outdoor areas surrounding” the courthouse, Eagles wrote. “The total prohibition is not a time, place, and manner restriction, and however strong the governmental interests are, the total prohibition is not narrowly tailored.”
Eagles declined to rule whether an updated policy governing use of the grounds is constitutional, saying the matter isn’t yet ripe for an appeal. The plaintiffs say the new rules remain overly broad.
Friday’s ruling “affirms the fundamental principle that public spaces should be generally open to everyone who would like to gather, protest and speak out,” said Kristi Graunke with the ACLU of North Carolina, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
The Confederate monument has been a local target for demonstrations in the weeks after the May 25 death of George Floyd. Floyd died after a white Minneapolis pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes as he pleaded for air.
A rally by opponents of the monument was scheduled for late Saturday in Graham across the street from the courthouse.

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