Civil Discourse and Free Speech: Can Good Manners be Mandated?


What is the proper balance between free speech, with its encouragement of open dialog and debate, and the need for order and civility to accomplish the goals of a public meeting?

What are the rights of the public attending a meeting to speak to the public body? Do the members of the public body have a right not to be personally attacked? And does the public body have an obligation to all citizens to get its business done?

Virginia Local Government Attorneys and other public officials get presented these difficult questions in various forms, often at a heated or difficult moment. Given the importance of the competing interests, and the likelihood that lay people involved have strong beliefs in their rights in this regard, it is important for local government attorneys to be clear in their legal advice on the matter, and for public officials to be firm and fair.

The importance of these competing interests and the proper balance between the competing public and individual rights and the need for civil public discourse was underscored by the shooting in Arizona which ended in death and injury. That recent incident makes the following essay by my fellow member of the Sands Anderson Local Government Team on ‘Civil Discourse and Free Speech” very timely.

Please see full article below for more information.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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