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Charges against protesters dropped in Farmington

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Posted at 10:36 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-15 00:36:30-04

FARMINGTON, Utah -- Free speech is getting freer in Farmington.

For more than a decade the city of Farmington required people to obtain a $50 permit if they wanted to hold a protest, no matter how big or small. This summer ACLU Utah filed a lawsuit against the city, accusing this ordinance of being unconstitutional.

The city is now putting that Free Speech Ordinance on a permanent hold.

"I think it's ridiculous that a month after I peacefully express my view point on a sidewalk I had police officers on my front door threatening me with six months in jail," said Jeremy Beckham.

Beckham was one of two people cited for organizing animal rights protests outside Lagoon in July. Farmington officials said the protesters had violated the city’s Free Speech Ordinance by not obtaining a permit.

"We first did approach Farmington City to get a protest permit but we were met with this 17-page set of rules and on top of that we had to pay $50 every time we wanted to protest," Beckham said.

The ordinance was adopted in 2002 for one specific event, a rodeo that was in correlation with the Olympics. The city was worried about protesters and the reason for the permit was to ensure public safety.

"Are we going to have 5,000 people out there and streets blocked and people mad on both sides of the streets and therefore we need law enforcement there," said Dave Millheim, Farmington City Manager.

A few dozen people ended up attending the Lagoon protests. ACLU Utah sued Farmington and Davis County, accusing the ordinance of being unconstitutional. They believe the city is picking sides.

"Lagoon amusement park is the largest employer in Farmington, it makes up a huge chunk of their tax base, and I think there were probably some strings being pulled behind the scenes," Beckham said.

The city said even before the ACLU lawsuit was filed, the city and county spoke about suspending the ordinance.

"If anyone feels we are trying to limit their rights to free speech they absolutely got it wrong," Millheim said.

The city did say even though it's no longer a law, they still hope groups alert them before protesting, just so the city remains in the loop.

"Well theoretically if you had two people standing on the side of the street arguing that requires a permit and certainly that is not the intent of the ordinance," Millheim said. "You need to be responsible, don't flip off the city when we are trying to help you because that's what happened in this case."

As for those people who were originally cited for protesting outside Lagoon, those charges have been dropped.

On Tuesday night, Farmington City Council will hold a meeting to decide whether or not this ordinance should be officially dropped from city law.