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As Protesters Target Private Homes, One Utah City Tries To Limit Residential Picketing

Protestors gather on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on May 2, 2020.
Protestors gather on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on May 2, 2020.

Anti-mask and anti-lockdown protesters are targeting public health officials and politicians in parts of the Mountain West — sometimes at their own homes.

In Boise this week, one county commissioner’s 12-year-old son was home alone when protesters showed up there. In late October, protesters went to the home of Utah's state epidemiologist. And in Orem, Utah, last month, demonstrators targeted the governor's residence after he enacted a state of emergency.

Orem, at least, has responded with an ordinance that limits protests at private homes.

University of Idaho law professor Richard Seamon says there is legal precedent for that, pointing to a similar ordinance in Wisconsin that led to the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Frisby v. Schultz.

"People started protesting outside of the home of a doctor who performed abortions," Seamon said. "And the town in which he lived enacted an ordinance that banned all picketing before or about the residence or dwelling of any individual.”

The court ruled in favor of the ordinance, citing individuals’ right to peace and quiet in their own homes. The court also made the point, Seamon said, that "picketing outside of someone’s home can be really threatening compared to other forms of protest. You can feel like a prisoner inside your own home.”

The ordinance in Orem doesn’t stop residential protests, though, it just moves them back about 100 feet from property lines. And many toed that line not long after the rule was passed.

City Council member Debby Lauret said no one was arrested, though, “and I don’t think they will (be arresting anyone).”

“We were just trying to be respectful of the neighbors and the governor,” she said.

Going forward, other cities may consider such an ordinance as public health officials and politicians alike face protesters at their front doors.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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