Similar to the popular Drug Free Zone sign campaign employed at school districts across the nation, Southampton Town developed a “Bias Free Zone” campaign in 2008. As a result, pursuant to a town board resolution, at that time, the town erected signs at town owned facilities deeming them “bias free.”
But the outcome of a lawsuit filed by a group of individuals in 2012 is bringing the signs down. The group, including a local deacon and reverend, said they were told they could not protest same sex marriage on the steps of town hall in June of 2011 because it was considered a “Bias Free Zone.” Protesters were moved to the sidewalk, roughly 30 feet from the steps.
According to Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, the signs were authorized by the town board to “encourage civility at town-owned facilities and to reinforce the town’s commitment to ensuring all citizens the town interacts with will be treated in a bias free manner.”
Fleming continued, “the intent of the original signs was never to impede upon anyone’s first amendment rights, but rather to promote civility, and so we have agreed to remove the bias free zone signs. However, we are replacing the old signs to assure the residents and visitors of our continued commitment to treat all people with dignity, respect and in an unbiased manor when interacting with town officials.”
New signs will go up soon. Language for the signs is being reviewed internally prior to placement throughout the town, according to Fleming’s press release.
“The Town Board did a good thing by allowing the signs to be refurbished and reworded,” said Anti Bias Task Force Chairman Gerald Martin. “These signs are not meant to limit freedom of speech. They are a reminder to people in all walks of life that they will be treated fairly by the town, without bias and discrimination.”