Commissioners silence First Amendment proclamation

Three of the Isanti County Commissioners had the final say regarding the proposed First Amendment “Right to Read” proclamation — and they said it without saying a word.

By a 2-3 vote, with Commissioner Bill Berg and Chair Mike Warring casting the yes votes and Commissioners Steve Westerberg and Kristi LaRowe and Vice-Chair Alan Duff casting nay votes, the board rejected a request from a group of residents to declare Isanti County a “First Amendment Dedicated County,” similar to the proclamation the commissioners approved for being Second Amendment dedicated.

The resolution presented to the board for final voting was a slightly modified version of the one first presented by residents during public comment a month ago. Commissioner Berg, in an attempt to reach a compromise between the two factions, reworded one of the final paragraphs to read “The Isanti County Board of Commissioners support the right to obtain age-appropriate literature...”

“That still left open opportunity for Freedom of Speech and discussion of age-appropriate and locations and that kind of stuff,” Berg said. 

Berg’s compromise was in response to the sentiment that approving a blanket “Right to Read” would allow for unabated distribution of reading materials many feel are obscene and inappropriate for younger readers. That sentiment was repeated over and over during the public comment portion of the May 2 meeting, with 20 residents approaching the board. Of those 20, it was roughly evenly split between people against the proclamation and people in favor of it.

Another argument made against the proclamation was that technically, the First Amendment doesn’t pertain to reading books — it only pertains to being able to write the books. That argument was refuted by several of the other half of the people commenting. They asserted the writing and reading of books is a form of communication and if books are made unavailable, then it hinders the authors’ Freedom of Speech.

Berg also refuted that argument, referencing an “authorial intent” he believed was in the crafters of the First Amendment. “I think the intent was to include the freedom to read,” he said.

“We are making a statement that we want all of the rights and the amendments of the Constitution the way they are, without these changes by Executive Orders,” added Warring. “And this would just affirm, in my view, that we have the rights we were given — the First Amendment, Second Amendment, or whatever amendment. And we can certainly make that statement, because that is all it is, a statement, just like with the Second Amendment, that was a statement. We started with one, and that makes it awfully difficult to say ‘I like this amendment better than this amendment, and we’re going to pick and choose. It’s all or nothing.”

With that, Warring asked for any final discussion, which was met with silence from the three nay-sayers.

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