ACLU v. Chapel Hill

The next lawsuit shaping up could pit Chapel Hill against the ACLU. On Friday, town attorney Ralph Karpinos received a letter from the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina warning that constitutionally the town can’t bar the ad placed on town buses by Church of Reconciliation that advocates for the U.S. to stop military aid to Israel.

Furthermore, the ACLU says, a suggested solution to the controversy – banning all noncommercial or political ads altogether – would not be acceptable. The Salt Lake City school board tried a similar tactic – banning all student clubs as a way to stop gay-supportive students from meeting – and a Utah court shot that down.

The ACLU’s letter goes on for six pages giving examples of court cases around the country similar to Chapel Hill’s bus ad controversy. All rule in favor of this form of free speech.

Did you ever think that the ACLU would take Chapel Hill to task, that Chapel Hill and Utah might be mentioned in the same sentence, and Utah come out looking good? Chapel Hill, that liberal bastion some claim ultra-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms suggested fencing in to serve as a zoo. Where did we drift astray?

One conservative influence may come from a change in our demographics. More wealthy people live in town now. Chapel Hill grew up as a university town, populated by people who spent their time thinking, and there wasn’t much money in that back then. But in recent years, as the town has reached its growth limit, real estate prices have shot up, skewing new residents toward the wealthy class. You have to have a lot more money to buy into town now than even a decade ago.

As a gross generalization, the wealthy often have a greater sense of entitlement. They’ve worked hard and acquired enough wealth to shield themselves from the unpleasant – a gated community appeals to them, for instance, or hiring someone to clean the bathrooms and mow the lawn. I see Lexus SUVs, not Toyota Tercels, idling empty in the supermarket parking lot with the air conditioning on so that the driver doesn’t have to endure a few minutes of blistering heat after grocery shopping. And now, some Chapel Hill residents feel entitled to ride a bus, paid for by their ample property taxes, without being affronted by an ad for an idea they disagree with.

Look where we’ve come. Is this really where we wanted to go?

To weigh in on the debate, attend the meeting in Town Council chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 11.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. JWJ

     /  October 1, 2012

    Sorry if I am being overly sensitive, but why the crack about “conservative influence”? I am a conservative, and I am pretty strongly in favor of no governmental restrictions (with the fire in the theater exception) on free speech. Since those are government buses, the sides of those buses are a government speech area. If the Chapel Hill govt is going to accept advertising, then they should have to accept all advertising (with content neutral rules, such as the request for a contact telephone number, or no profanity), regardless of political content.

    If Chapel Hill wants to not have ANY advertising on govt buses, then that would be fine too.

    Over the last 10-20 years, how many registered Republicans (or self-identified conservative/libertarians) have there been on the city council (If Matt Czajkowski voted for Obama and/or Perdue in 2008, then would he really be a conservative?) ? Chapel Hill’s city council is run by left liberals and I believe has been for long time. They are the ones voting land use restrictions that help drive up the real estate prices (see Silicon Valley and other geographies for other examples).

    You seem to be implying that a “conservative influence” would be more likely to restrict free speech (I could be definitely misinterpreting you here and if so, my apologies). I see speech restrictions coming more from the liberal left position. Speech codes on University campuses from left to far left University Administrations (speech codes that F.I.R.E. litigates against); Calls for “Hate” speech (conveniently defined by the person complaining about it) to be banned or limited coming more from left media sources and/or left politicians ; the current democrat administration arresting the creator of a Mohammed video for supposed parole violations (do you really think he would have EVER been arrested if he had not made this video; if you think the arrest is coincidence, then I have a bridge to sell you)

    P.S. How many cars (regardless of make/model) have you seen idling empty in a Chapel Hill Supermarket during the summer time over the last 5 years? Cause I have seen exactly zero.

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  October 1, 2012

    Re: your P.S. — Harris Teeter North parking lot, maybe half a dozen over the summer, always a new-ish SUV.

  3. Patrick

     /  October 2, 2012

    The idea that Chapel Hill is bumping up against its growth limit is not a fact but an opinion, albeit a strongly held one by a well-organized subset of the community.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  October 2, 2012

    The idea that Chapel Hill is can grow without limit is not a fact but an opinion, albeit a strongly held one by a well-organized subset of the community.

  5. JWJ

     /  October 2, 2012

    For some reason I find it oddly fascinating that someone leaves their car running with no one else in the car and then goes grocery shopping.

    If you are feeling somewhat mischievous the next time that happens, you should either move their car or turn off the car and place the keys on the roof.

    We shop at the other Harris Teeter in University Mall and have never seen that.

  6. Nancy Oates

     /  October 2, 2012

    I think that might be hard to explain to police, so I’ll leave it alone. The first time I saw it, I thought someone had locked their keys in the car with the car running, and I thought, how embarrassing for them. But having seen it multiple times, I think it may be a feature of new cars, like a remote start.

  7. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 2, 2012

    Maybe that person’s insurance is such that they have an incentive to encourage thieves to take the car. But to extrapolate from that, to “the wealthy often have a greater sense of entitlement” as an explanation for inspiring a lawsuit from the ACLU, is too big of a leap.

    As for local gated communities, they’re all in Chatham and Durham.

  8. Jon DeHart

     /  October 2, 2012

    There is Conservative as in political and conservative with a small c. Those with a small c want no change at all . Which isn’t going to happen . Only constant in lfe is change . Those who adapt to it always do better than those who do not .

    Our real estate prices becoming more and more expensive are a direct result of how our Liberal/ yet conservative elected officials plan our development . If we keep the same plan , we will become even more expensive and our taxes will increase more .

    As far as the the folks leaving there cars running , I have seen at many times. Same shopping center , usually I see mini vans more than the SUV’s .

    While we are complaining about our favorite first world problems, my biggest peeve is when I hear the whine of gas engine of the Toyota Prius in town limits or neighborhhod streets . There are several in my part of town where the speed limit is 25 . If going the speed limit the gas engine should never kick in which is the whole point of having a hybrid… It is a status symbol as much as a SUV or lexus . The Honda Civic has a smaller carbon foot print after you dispsose of the batteries in a prius . And it costs less when you include all costs …

  9. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 3, 2012

    Sorry to pipe up again, but rising real estate taxes (CH city, CHCCS, Orange County) have more to do with catching up with service demand as a result of building, including building on campus.

    For example, the university and hospitals depend upon Chapel Hill’s fire department, and until last year, UNC made a substantial “voluntary contribution” to the fire department. Last year, UNC cut its contribution, explaining budget pressures. However, the fire department must maintain equipment and pay its personnel regardless, and because of substantial building on campus and in town, must increase the same. An assistant fire chief told me they are required to maintain response time and must equip the department. A truck equipped for high-floor fires costs $1,000,000, plus 15 firefighters (hired for all shifts) to man them. A similar issue arises for trash collection and disposal, public works, and police.

    Similarly, Orange County taxes rise with all residential building in Chapel Hill because new schools, or additions to old ones, are built to accommodate an increased population of children moving into new housing.

    CHCCS taxes rise to staff and supply those schools– and this is the tax that has risen the most in the past 16 years.

    These taxes rise as a result of building, and because Chapel Hill has a fairly high population turnover in a desirable school district, demand for schooling remains high over time.

  10. JWJ

     /  October 3, 2012

    From Mr. Dehart: “here is Conservative as in political and conservative with a small c. Those with a small c want no change at all .”

    I am going to disagree with your assertion that conservatives want no change at all. I find that statement ridiculous.

    Conservatives may want those proposing a change to have the burden of proof on them why the change is a better idea that the status quo, but are certainly NOT resistant to all change just because it is a change.

    I think of conservatives more along the lines of free market (that does NOT mean big business asking to be regulated by big govt) and private property; individual responsibility; personal charity; smaller federal govt (not zero govt as some folks like to create a straw-man argument) among other things.

  11. Jon DeHart

     /  October 3, 2012

    I think said there is a difference in being politcally conservative, Jesse Helms , Ronald Reagan Old School NC Republicans, etc and being conservative with a small c, meaning adverse to change .We have many Progrssive political people who are conservative when it comes development .
    From experience with the current and former Town Councils. I would say most if not all of them do not want much or any change in our development process . That lack of progressive thought is directly related to making it more expensive to build here. We live in a desirable place with great public school education . We bought in 2006 and by my guess it is worth 25-30 more than what we paid for it even with the current economy . My guess is that it will gain another 25-40 over the next 10 years . So those of us who are already homewoners benefit from a lack of housing in a desirable place to live.

    Your are entitled to your opinion . I am pretty sure I have more experience in this than you do unless you are George C or Rosemary .

    That is what message boards and blogs are for . People can call other people and their opinions ridiculous without giving their name .

  12. Jon DeHart

     /  October 3, 2012

    Definition of conservative :

    con·serv·a·tive/kənˈsərvətiv/Adjective: Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in politics or religion.

    I think that pretty much describes our history , cautious about change or innovation .

    I don’t want the standards loosened, just stream lined . Tell the developer NO earlier, as opposed to making them work for years and tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars try to appease every whim of every Council Member .

    Every dollar added to the developer costs gets passed along to the consumer .

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  October 3, 2012

    I think we should all use the medical definition of conservative: : not extreme or drastic; especially : designed to preserve parts or restore or preserve function

    Personally, I am a fiscal conservative–I think we should be cautious when making expenditures or levying taxes, but I am not opposed to either. Environmentally, I am also conservative in that I think we should be cautious and understand the long-term impacts on the entire system when making changes, such as fracking. I am a social liberal, because I believe that those who have more (money, power, influence, etc.) should consider and be generous in using their power, money, influence to ensure they don’t step on the rights of those who have less. In other words, I believe both conservative and progressive are reductionist terms. I don’t know many people who are either/or.

  14. Jon DeHart

     /  October 3, 2012

    I agree with you , I think you are a Progressive conservative.

  15. Tom Field

     /  October 4, 2012

    I define a conservative in Chapel Hill as someone whose primary interest is making, saving, investing MONEY and buying and displaying the fruits of that MONEY. They often have little interest in politics or ideas other than how much it will COST them. Oh, how I long for the days when Chapel Hill was Carrboro, and we WERE the ACLU. It feels more like Cary now.

  16. JWJ

     /  October 4, 2012

    Mr DeHart, you initially wrote that “here is Conservative as in political and conservative with a small c. Those with a small c want no change at all”. My purpose in posting was to rebut the phrase that conservatives want no change at all. In your follow-up post, I believe you made a modification about conservatives being adverse to change as opposed to repeating that conservatives want no change. To me there is a difference between the two.

    I certainly did not realize that the context you were speaking about was exclusively around local development.

    I never claimed to have more experience than you in local development so not sure why you felt it necessary to defend yourself in this area.

    I did not call you ridiculous, I wrote that one particular statement was ridiculous. Brilliant people can make silly statements sometimes. I know that being around average myself, I make more than my share of ridiculous statements.

    I do not use my real name cause I have concerns that my opinion could have a negative impact on my employment. That concern could quite possibly be overblown, but I have a very low tolerance for risk when it comes to anything that could impact my family in such a large way. When I retire, my stance on this will change.

    Of course, you can discount any comment I make based on me using a “nom-de-internet” instead of my name.
    I definitely am impressed by folks posting with their actual names. If you all believe that only folks using their actual names should be able to post, I would absolutely abide by those rules. Your call.

    Can somebody be a progressive conservative? And if so, what would that mean politically?

  17. Steve Wells

     /  October 4, 2012

    It seems to me that this is the classic “No good deed goes unpunished” for Council. The text of the advertisement, in and of itself, is fairly innocuous and in line with a Libertarian view of policy about intervention in foreign wars. Council obviously just thought people who advertise would be businesses not non-profits. Which begs a question about that Tax-Exempt status.

    While I personally find the idea that ending aid to Israel misguided – see Europe pre-1947 for how that works out. I do believe that it is their right to promote their world view, much like the Wells Fargo wrapped buses promoted a different view when they picked up the Occupy protesters in Chapel Hill.

    As for this whole thing over how well-off Chapel Hill is. You know, we are a well-to-do community. I guess since my Dad grew up so poor he had nothing until he got out of the Military in 1962, I make no apologies for how I live. I wish everyone could have what I have or at least the Right to affordable healthcare and a decent education (College or Vocational). Because he grew up that way, I am Liberal (not a Progressive). Because his brothers grew up that way and got spit on everyday at school by the rich kids, most of them are ironically Conservative (Stockholm Syndrome?).

    We, in Chapel Hill, are mostly well-off, privileged and lucky. It’s like an economic survivor’s guilt, which explains why we have so many excellent Therapists in town.

    However, if you leave your Lexus idling and it is usually a Lexus, you are being a jerk. Are you so fragile you’ll melt sitting in a hot car?