The Amarillo City Council’s no clapping policy is designed to maintain order at council meetings, but some say the rule is unconstitutional. Instead of clapping, people are instructed to raise their hands to signal agreement or keep their hands down to signal disagreement.
Ginger Nelson, the mayor of Amarillo, says the goal of the no clapping policy is to establish an atmosphere where all comments are welcome. Otherwise, she says, some people aren’t comfortable speaking at meetings.
“We then, as the elected officials, miss out on the opportunity to hear that one person’s perspective because of the social intimidation created in a pep rally-like environment,” she says.
Dale Carpenter, the chair of constitutional law at the SMU Dedman School of Law, says the public needs to be able to express both approval and disapproval.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a city council just completely ban this traditional means of expression as a way to do that,” he says. “I think it’s something that could be challenged.”
Nelson says she’s cleared the policy with the city attorney and she’s not concerned about a legal challenge.
“We just want to operate and do the business of the city,” she says. “And so we just want to be able to do it in a way that makes every citizen welcome to come, welcome to use their free speech rights to speak to their elected officials about whatever issue or concern or policy they want to talk about.”
Written by Jen Rice.