By Larry . . . Last week NARSOL reported on a case in Georgia we sponsored challenging Butts County Sheriff Gary Long’s requirement that all registrants in Butts County must post signs on Halloween or face criminal prosecution. We undertook this case because we believe that law enforcement must not be permitted to invent their own requirements as Sheriff Long and so many others routinely do. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit agrees with us and banned the practice. It now appears that Sheriff Long has accepted the defeat.
According to the local newspaper, the Jackson Progress-Argus, Sheriff Long posted the following response to the ruling on the BCSO Facebook page on Jan. 20:
My job, as [s]heriff, is to protect the people of this [c]ounty. The appeals [c]ourt did not rule in my favor, but it was a fight I was determined to fight for the safety of our children. . . . The ruling from the appeals court is what we must follow, and this fight brings clarity to every [s]heriff in the state of Georgia. Despite if I agree with this ruling or not, it is now the law of the land, and I took an oath to follow those laws. I promise you, the people, that we will continue to protect your rights and protect this county’s most valuable assets, our children. Going forward my office will follow the ruling of the court and will not place the signs in sex offender’s yards, but we will, in fact, put safeguards in place to continue to protect your children. I will always stand up and fight for what I believe in and what I think will protect you, the people. It is an honor and privilege to serve as your [s]heriff.
Marc Treadwell, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Macon, heard the case initially and barred Long from posting the signs, a position he later reversed by ruling in Long’s favor. He said that if the plaintiffs did not agree with the message conveyed by the posted signs, they were free to post their own signs beside them stating their disagreement.
That ruling was then overturned by the appeals court, and chief judge Frank Hull wrote in response, “If the only constitutional requirement for the government to compel citizens to host its speech on their private property is that it also permits them to post a second sign disagreeing with the first, the Sheriff could place any sign identifying himself as the speaker in any county resident’s yard.”
Hull further commented that Georgia law does not forbid persons on the sex offense registry from participating in Halloween activities and that Sheriff Long acknowledges there have been no issues with any registrants in Butts County.
This case was discussed in detail on the Registry Matters Podcast. Although Registry Matters is not a NARSOL production, it is an important resource for information and analysis of current events.
Larry serves as NARSOL’S treasurer and is publisher of the Digest. He writes the “Legal Corner” column for the Digest and legal analyses for the NARSOL website. He is a regular on the “Registry Matters” podcasts.