Fearing a First Amendment violation, Whiteville to repeal “deceiver or spell” law

WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) – With kids across America preparing to dress up as goblins, ghouls and a bevy of fanged creatures this Halloween, the town of Whiteville is set to repeal a toothless law regulating the age-old tradition of trick-or-treating.

A local ordinance regulating scary vacations is not a concept exclusive to Whiteville; other towns and cities across the state and country have, at one time or another, established rules for door-to-door candy seekers.

Last year, however, the City received “negative comments / press” on its stance on Halloween, prompting staff to review the ordinance.

As it currently reads, trick-or-treating is only permitted before 8:30 p.m. on Halloween night by children 12 and under. Anyone over the age of 12 or trying to grab late-night candy could be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, penalties include up to 30 days in jail or a $ 50 fine.

“The City is not trying to regulate other floating holidays, why is the City trying to regulate Halloween? City staff questioned in a summary of the proposal to repeal the ordinance included in the agenda for Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The diary also contains an article written by Pacific Legal – a nonprofit organization that provides legal services in the areas of property rights, individual liberty, and free enterprise – which held that the ban on the trick -or-treat was a First Amendment violation. Specifically, the article states that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of individuals to engage in door-to-door canvassing for a variety of causes, including expressive activity.

“Trick-or-treat is in keeping with this tradition of expressive door-to-door activity,” the article reads. “The trompe-l’oeil costume can be a form of speech protected from government censorship. “

Additionally, city staff acknowledged in the proposal summary that if someone challenges a violation in court, a judge would likely declare the order unenforceable.

Staff did, however, provide several suggestions for safety guidelines the city could issue, should city council vote for them at Tuesday’s meeting. These guidelines include:

  • Parents are requested to supervise their children’s Halloween Trick or Treat activities and ensure that Trick or Treat activities are limited to children under the age of 16.
  • Trick or Treat times will be observed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, October 31, 2021.
  • Residents who wish to participate in Trick or Treat are asked to leave a porch light or other outdoor light on during these hours.
  • Parents are encouraged to explain to children that homes without outside light do not participate in Trick or Treat and that these homes should be left out during these activities.
  • It is also recommended for the safety of our children that parental supervision be extended to include the insistence that children not consume any “treats” until they are closely examined by their parents. Parents should follow the “if in doubt, throw it out” rule when there is evidence of tampering with the packaging or surfaces of consumable products.

Whiteville city council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.

About Myra R.

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