One of the fundamental freedoms granted in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This section is often referred to as the Petition Clause. It states that citizens have the right to appeal to the government in favor of or against polices or actions that affect them or in which they feel strongly. This freedom includes the right to gather signatures in support of a cause and lobby legislative bodies for or against legislation.
A definition of the word “petition,” as it relates to the freedom to petition and the First Amendment, is any nonviolent, legal means of encouraging or disapproving government action, whether directed to the judicial, executive or legislative branch. Filing lawsuits and referendums are actions consistent with this definition.
The concept of petitioning the government can be traced back to the Magna Carta in 1215 and the 1689 English Declaration of Rights that allows for subjects of the king to petition him without fear of persecution.
When the Founding Fathers framed our Constitution and added the Bill of Rights in 1789 they surely had the Magna Carta and the English Declaration of Rights in mind.
It is said that James Madison wrote the First Amendment, adding the clause allowing for the right to petition.
The residents of Sullivan’s Island exercised this fundamental right to petition when they submitted a certified petition for a referendum to the Town of Sullivan’s Island before the town meeting on Oct. 18, 2011.
Instead of accepting this petition for a referendum, Town Council chose to ignore it, claiming it to be defective and proceeding to sign the lease with the Charleston County School District for the proposed new Sullivan’s Island Elementary School.
Residents who signed the petition were rightfully concerned that their constitutional right to petition had been so easily dismissed and that they could not take action until a year had passed, as was proscribed by the law.
On March 8, 2013, Judge Markley Dennis ruled against an effort by the Town to dismiss a suit brought by Island residents, seeking to have the referendum that was called for in the certified petition submitted to Town Council on Oct.18, 2011.
This means the case will move forward and the Town Council will continue to spend taxpayers’ money to deny its citizens a vote. The residents and taxpayers also will have to continue to spend their own money to secure their rights according to our Constitution.
It is unfortunate we are where we are today. Much money has been spent on both sides, and the town remains divided. If Town Council had accepted the petition and held the referendum more than a year ago, the issue would have been resolved, the island would be at peace and all the money could have been put to better use.
Carl Smith is mayor of Sullivan’s Island.