Letter to the Editor: Statement from Councilman Jonathan Nelson


lettersDear Editor:

The U.S. Supreme Court has written that traditional public forums are those that “have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions.” Public streets and parks are the quintessential example.

The Court has also determined that Township Council meetings are not traditional public forums and may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expression. However, that does not mean the Township Council or it’s attorney may restrict the questions and opinions expressed by members of the public.

At the Tuesday, April 9 Parsippany-Troy Hills  Township Council meeting, the township attorney prevented a resident from asking questions that some may not have wanted to hear. At Township meetings the Council can restrict speech “as long as the restrictions are reasonable and are not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view.”

I don’t believe the restrictions placed on the resident at the April 9 meeting were reasonable at all. The resident should have been able to speak during her allotted time.

It is no fluke that freedom of speech is the 1st amendment. The founding fathers knew that democracy would fail without it. The importance of free speech remains evident today. Countries that protect free speech thrive; countries that suppress it fail. Salman Rushdie wrote, “free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game, free speech is life itself.” Public officials have an unwritten contract with members of the public. I believe that contract was broken at the Tuesday, April 9 meeting by the Township attorney and his actions do not represent the opinion of this Councilman.

Jonathan Nelson
Parsippany-Troy Hills Township