In this article, we will explore the concept of First Amendment audits and the right to film in public offices. We will specifically focus on a recent incident that took place in Derry, New Hampshire. During this incident, a YouTuber, known as Accountability For All, conducted a First Amendment audit at the Derry Town Hall. We will discuss the importance of the First Amendment, the legality of filming in public offices, and the role of law enforcement in these situations.
The First Amendment and its Importance:
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees several fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These rights are essential in a democratic society as they allow individuals to express themselves freely and hold those in power accountable. One important aspect of the First Amendment is the right to film in public places, including government buildings.
Filming in Public Offices: The Legal Perspective:
Under the First Amendment, individuals have the right to film and document public officials in the performance of their duties. This includes filming inside public offices. There is no specific law that prohibits the filming of public officials or activities in governmental buildings, as long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the office. However, it should be noted that some individual states and municipalities may have certain restrictions in place, so it is advisable to familiarize yourself with local laws before conducting a First Amendment audit.
The Incident at Derry Town Hall:
During the First Amendment audit conducted by Accountability For All, the YouTuber encountered resistance from one of the employees at the Derry Town Hall. The employee questioned their right to film and requested that they stop recording. However, the YouTuber asserted their First Amendment rights and explained that they were within their legal rights to film inside a public office.
Steps to Conduct a Successful First Amendment Audit:
- Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the First Amendment and the laws of your jurisdiction regarding filming in public places.
- Prepare your equipment: Ensure that you have a camera or a smartphone capable of recording high-quality video and audio.
- Be respectful and polite: Approach the public office with respect and professionalism. Avoid causing any disruptions or interfering with the normal operations of the office.
- Stay calm and assert your rights: If confronted by an employee who questions your right to film, calmly assert your First Amendment rights and explain the legal framework that protects your actions.
- Document everything: Record the entire interaction with the employee, including any attempts to impede your filming or restrict your access to public areas.
- Follow up with a records request: After conducting the audit, consider submitting a records request to obtain information about the agency or its employees. This can help in holding public officials accountable.
First Amendment audits play a crucial role in promoting transparency and accountability in government offices. Individuals have the right to film in public places, including public offices, as long as it does not interfere with normal operations. It is important to know and assert your rights while conducting a First Amendment audit and to document any interactions with employees. By doing so, you can raise awareness about the importance of free speech and the role of citizens in holding those in power accountable.