After several weeks of protests near the private home of Gov. Chris Sununu, the town of Newfields has enacted an ordinance banning such gatherings outside private residences.
The ordinance, which was introduced by the town’s Select Board on Dec. 8, prohibits “any person to engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual in the Town of Newfields.” Violations are subject to a $100 fine.
The board, which includes Michael Sununu, the governor’s brother, passed the measure on Dec. 22.
Protestors began gathering on Governor Sununu’s cul-de-sac in November after he imposed a statewide mask mandate in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to waiving signs, protestors used bullhorns to voice their opposition to the measure.
The group is aligned under the name Absolute Defiance, according to media reports, and includes at least one Republican member of the N.H. House of Representatives.
According to the Select Board’s meeting minutes, the weekly protests have required additional state and local police. Police Chief Nathan Liebenow told the Select Board that the protests have had a “significant impact on the tranquility of the neighborhood” and are straining the small department.
“The intention of this ordinance is not to suppress or violate anyone’s constitutional right to free speech,” Liebenow told the board, according to the meeting minutes. “It is an effort to balance the peoples’ right to live without disturbance and harassment in their own homes."
The Attorney General’s office believes the ordinance is constitutional, telling the board it provides a “simple solution” to the ongoing protests.
“The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that one cannot weaponize the First Amendment to force your way into a home of another person,” said state attorney Matthew Broadhead, according to the meeting minutes. “This ordinance is near verbatim to one that the Supreme Court had affirmed in a prior case.”
It isn’t clear if members of Absolute Defiance may challenge the ordinance in court. A Facebook page for the group appears to have been taken down.