Amid The Noise, A Plea For Quieter – And Deeper – Conversation

Jul 1, 2019

The debate was supposed to be about noise.

And … a lot of people did make a lot of noise. One group of protesters jumped up on the Charlotte City Council dais before the meeting even started. Another group sang and prayed out in the Government Center lobby. More than 100 people spoke during the official part of the meeting, although they got just one minute apiece – not really time to even get warmed up.

The topic was, technically, a noise ordinance that bans amplified sound within 150 feet of schools, places of worship and medical facilities.

But there were two other topics that the night was really about.

One was abortion.

The other was free speech.

They’re two of the hardest issues to resolve in our American lives. On abortion, the lines are hard as brick and about as easy to penetrate. The subject is literally life and death.

And so anti-abortion protesters all over the country stand outside clinics where abortions are provided and blast their message to the women going inside.

That happens in Charlotte at a women’s health center in east Charlotte. And it was likely to happen again at a new Planned Parenthood clinic scheduled to open next month near uptown.

Hence the noise ordinance, which forces protestors back to that 150-foot buffer zone – loud enough to be heard, but far enough away that they’re not right on top of clients.

As somebody who depends on the First Amendment to make a living, I have to admit that this gives me a little twinge.

I’m generally against restrictions on free speech, even when the content of that speech goes against every belief I have. And I’ve been part of a few press mobs shouting and hollering at some newsmaker coming out of a courthouse, or just out of their front door.

If you believe abortion is murder – as anti-abortion advocates clearly do – then it only makes sense to protest it as loud and long as you can.

But free speech is not the only right. There’s a right to make your own choices, and a right to privacy. All our rights, at a given moment, have to be balanced against one another. The results are often unsatisfying to everyone. America was designed to be this messy clash of rights and freedoms.

It seems to me that the City Council came to a decent compromise that allows clients of abortion clinics to go about their business and allows protestors to make their point. It might not make you comfortable. It’s not supposed to.

The easiest solution would be for the folks on all sides to sit down with one another and try to find some common ground – in other words, to have some kind of conversation beyond the noise. But that’s not something the City Council, or anyone else, can legislate. That’s up to us.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.