Note to AG Foster: Londonderry gets it right

Some days, the morning headlines are just too good to be true. I hope New Hampshire attorney general Joseph Foster sees this one.

Here’s a summary: On the mean streets of Londonderry over the weekend, a man attempted to interfere with two women who were going about their business. He was trying to contact them with an important message. They didn’t want to hear it. He persisted. He was warned to cease and desist. Being a young idealist, he kept on keepin’ on. Finally the cops saw him yelling at the women. That did it: he was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Police used existing law to deal with the situation. Perfect. No need to “buffer” the First Amendment to protect those women.

The women were Governor Hassan and Senator Shaheen. They were walking in a parade, not walking into an abortion facility. They were entitled to safety, as are clients and workers at abortion facilities. The man arrested for disorderly conduct was wearing a chicken suit (you can’t make this up), not carrying a “choose life” sign. The Londonderry police didn’t need a special law to be passed in the name of “safety and balance” in order to do their job. Chicken Man was cited for disorderly conduct, and the parade went on without further incident.

Perhaps the defendants in Reddy v. Foster could look at how Londonderry handled the situation at the parade. New Hampshire’s buffer zone law already looks unconstitutional. Londonderry makes it look silly as well. Laws are already in place against disorderly conduct and violence and trespassing. The disorderly conduct arrest at the parade brings to mind a crucial point in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Massachusetts’s old buffer zone law: a law abridging the First Amendment outside abortion facilities – or anyplace else – cannot possibly hold up in court if less-restrictive measures to control disruptive behavior haven’t been used.

It was Londonderry’s state senator, Sharon Carson, who made the principal arguments against the buffer zone when the bill came up in the Senate. She spoke powerfully, warning her colleagues about the First Amendment violation inherent in the bill.

I don’t know what’s in the water in Londonderry, but I sure hope it spreads.

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