Southampton Town will once again be reminding people that expressions of prejudice and bias against others’ life choices are not welcome at Town Hall.
The Town Board this week approved funding for the installation of new signs imploring—but carefully not demanding—tolerance and fairness at Town Hall.
In September, the town agreed to take down similar signs declaring Town Hall a “bias free zone” as part of a legal settlement with anti-gay marriage protesters who had claimed the demand had infringed on their rights to free speech. The new signs will inform visitors to Town Hall that the town does not condone bias against its residents because of their opinions, affiliations or life choices, and asks that others take the same approach.
“The problem with regard to the constitutionality of the original signs was that we, as a government, can’t dictate to people how they think,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said this week. “And we got that. The old signs had been based on the idea of drug-free zones in schools, so they appeared to create mandate. So we re-worked the language to tell people that the Anti-Bias Task Force and the Town of Southampton respect the dignity of all people, whatever their stripe.”
On the day in 2011 that Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer was to perform the first same-sex wedding at Town Hall, members of the Southampton Full Gospel Church, a group that has been organizing anti-abortion protests around the region for years, organized a protest on the front steps of Town Hall against same-sex marriages. They were shooed away by Village Police at the request of town officials, who later said they had received threats of violence in connection with the conducting of same-sex marriages.
The protesters sued and were granted an injunction by a federal judge preventing the town from barring protests on Town Hall property. The town settled the lawsuit last September, agreeing to take the signs down and pay the protesters $40,000 for legal costs.
Town attorneys carefully crafted the language of the new signs so as not to tread on constitutional freedoms while getting the message of the Anti-Bias Task Force across.
The signs read: “This marker represents the Town of Southampton’s commitment to promoting and encouraging fair treatment, dignity and respect for all people,” with the logo of the Anti-Bias Task Force at the bottom. They will be posted in the front entryway of Town Hall.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera and the Cornell Cooperative Extension will host a public meeting on March 3 to discuss the creation of a community garden in the Flanders area.
The meeting will be held at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders, starting at 6 p.m. All members of the public are invited to come hear the plans for the garden, share their own suggestions or sign up to participate in the project.
“One of my goals with this project is to integrate the community gardens into the town’s parks, youth, and senior services programs, with an eye toward promoting intergenerational interaction, with the garden as a focal point,” Ms. Scalera said in a release from the Town Council office this week.
Speakers at the March 3 meeting will include Laurie Nigro and Amy Davidson of the River & Roots Community Garden in Riverhead to offer advice on how to get a community garden started and what is needed to ensure its success.
“Programs like ours across the state are working in collaboration with local governments and community members to create healthy places in communities and implement projects that will make it easier for community members to be physically active and eat healthy foods,” said Susan Wilk, a project coordinator for Cornell. “Community gardens are a perfect opportunity for physical activity and an excellent source of nutrition and enjoyment of a wide assortment of garden fresh produce.”