With unanimous support from Northglenn City Council, a new ordinance places stricter limits on protests at religious institutions in town. “I think that this is long overdue for our community, and …
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With unanimous support from Northglenn City Council, a new ordinance places stricter limits on protests at religious institutions in town.
“I think that this is long overdue for our community, and anybody who wants to practice whatever religion they choose in this city should have the right to do so peacefully,” said Councilor Julie Duran Mullica at a June 28 meeting, right before council voted for a resolution to create a religious buffer zone.
The resolution passed on first reading and will need to be approved a second time before it is enacted. The ordinance would prohibit a protester from handing out leaflets, displaying a sign, or engaging in oral protest within 100 feet of the entrance of a door to a religious facility. It also would prohibit protesting activities specifically within 8 feet of a person entering or exiting the religious facility without that person's consent.
The ordinance would strengthen previous laws that enable people to enter a religious facility unimpeded, said City Attorney Corey Hoffman at the June 28 meeting. At the same time, Hoffman added, “it is designed to balance the rights of the folks who still want to protest, potentially in front of a religious facility.”
The ordinance arose from an ongoing incident at Masjid Ikhlas, or the Metropolitan Denver North Islamic Center, in which a protester named Richard Roy Blake visited the mosque on and off for several years. Blake's protests involved handing out leaflets and holding up signs in the mosque's parking lot or on the walkway adjacent to the property.
In January 2019, Northglenn police ticketed Blake for obstructing the walkway, and a municipal court jury convicted him shortly afterwards. Blake appealed the municipal court conviction in Adams County District Court, but Adams County District Court Judge Teri Vasquez upheld the conviction in a June 23 ruling.
Blake is suing the city in U.S. District Court and the mosque in Adams County District Court.
The religious buffer zone ordinance is directly a result of the situation at Masjid Ikhlas. Northglenn police have had to respond to protests at the mosque on several occasions. Hoffman didn't mention Blake or the mosque by name at the June 28 meeting, but the city attorney alluded to specific details with the case.
Instead of solely relying on the walkway obstruction ordinance, the religious buffer zone ordinance “makes it a little more direct of an offense if we have the same circumstance where we don't have to see someone actually go into the street and cause themselves danger in order to get into the facility,” Hoffman said.
The ordinance is modeled after similar ones that limit protesting activities at abortion centers. Various courts have upheld similar legislation, Hoffman said.
The city attorney added, “In terms of enforcement, I would characterize it as another tool in the toolbox.”
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