Your Move, Selah Citizens

    It is becoming clear that Selah city officials are not in learning mode about the Constitutional rights of their own citizens. Behind all the flag-waving and apple pie (or apple juice) lies a willingness to misuse city power to restrict comments that officials don't like. 

    Selah's City Council has refused to read several comments from its own citizens at recent council meetings. The reason given was that the comments violated the city's policy on public comments at council meetings.   

    We know this because one citizen, Lisa Draney, sent her censored comment to the Yakima Herald-Republic, which published it.  Here's what Lisa wanted to say:

During Mayor Raymond’s speech on July 28, 2020, she held up a copy of a book called 'The Selah Story.' She stated, 'Read this book, this is what we are all about. Read where we came from. Remember who we are and why we love our city.'

The mayor’s statements are a clear promotion of the book. The book begins with the forced expulsion of Native Americans by white settlers and includes a depiction of blackface. The mayor seemed to take great pride in the content of the book, and yet it includes records of these clearly racist acts.

    Lisa's comment would pass muster with any defensible Time, Place, and Manner policy of any public entity in the United States. Such policies require "content neutral" application of any restrictions on citizens' speech, and only for a solid governmental reason.

    If that "content neutral" phrase sounds familiar, that's because it is the same standard that got Selah into trouble over chalk art. Selah practices speech suppression in a very one-sided, self-serving manner. If Selah's city leaders like what you're saying, you're good. If they don't, your letter doesn't get read. 

    Lisa's letter doesn't violate a reasonable person's understanding of Selah's own policy:

Persons wishing to speak shall maintain appropriate civility. Comments that are impertinent, degrading, slanderous, or impugn the integrity of any member of the Council, employee of the city, or any member of the public shall not be permitted. 

    Lisa's comment is not about or against Selah's mayor. The essence of Lisa's comment was focused on the only book on The Mayor's Summertime Reading List. 

    Lisa's comments focus on the sore-to-the-touch issue behind Selah's chalk art fiasco.  Now, the council's refusal to allow Lisa's comments have made the same issue the focus of the chalk art sequel. 

    That sore spot: all citizens are not equal in Yakima County's only town with an 85% white majority.  

    Selah city officials have been forced to back down a bit on their chalk art debacle. But they are still restricting public comment by their own citizens in ways that could (and really must, if they refuse to budge) land them in federal court.  

    Selah city leaders still seem to believe they are the gatekeepers on public comment on public policy issues while in public places. (What is remarkable is that Selah residents who support this gatekeeping often fly the flag of "personal rights and freedoms." Ironic, huh?)

    Selah's application of their own policies - in both the chalk art and now the city council public comments  - was not "content neutral," as required by Supreme Court guidelines on governmental restrictions on free speech in public places.  It is yet another example of a First Amendment lawsuit waiting to happen. 

    There are really only two ways for this situation to resolve: in court, or at the ballot box.  The first one is expensive (money) and costly (reputation). 

    Your move, Selah citizens.