Aug 24, 2023 - News

Debate over signs in the statehouse heads to court

Troopers removed an audience member from a subcommittee meeting Tuesday because she refused to put down a sign. Photo: Ray Di Pietro

A Nashville judge has stopped the Tennessee House from banning handheld signs in its galleries.

Driving the news: The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sued over the House's new anti-sign rule after members of the public were forced out of a legislative meeting Tuesday because they were holding signs advocating for gun control.

What they're saying: "These rules are unreasonable," ACLU-TN legal director Stella Yarbrough said in a statement.

  • "The Tennessee House's ban on silently holding signs in House galleries directly undermines Tennesseans' First Amendment right to express their opinions on issues that affect them and their families."

Between the lines: House Republicans passed the sign ban Monday as part of a rules package that could also stop lawmakers from participating in debates if they are deemed disruptive.

  • The new rules came after the Tennessee House got national attention for expelling members who led protest chants from the chamber floor.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a lawmaker referenced the House controversy during a meeting Wednesday.

  • "I know it may not seem like it sometimes, but we really appreciate having people here that come in a lawful manner to let us know what you want," said state Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville).
  • "I know some places they may not like you to have signs. We welcome signs."

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