The city of Florence has reached a tentative agreement to settle a free speech lawsuit brought by an organization that staged dozens of protests against a Confederate monument in the north Alabama city, according to a Monday court filing.
The lawsuit, filed in April by Project Say Something and its founder, Camille Bennett, alleges the city violated their right to free speech by using an unconstitutionally vague parade permit process and noise ordinances to stymie protests against the “Eternal Vigil” monument.
A Monday court filing indicated the two sides have agreed to proposed new noise and parade ordinances for the city. The two sides tentatively agreed to dismiss the lawsuit if the Florence City Council adopts the changes.
“We are really grateful to be a catalyst for change for our community. Before we started protesting, the noise ordinances were vague and there was really no legal framework,” Bennett said.
The plaintiffs alleged the police chief used the parade permit ordinance to move demonstrations to a “protest zone” away from the courthouse. They also claimed that demonstrators were threatened with citations for violating the noise ordinance while police tolerated threatening and noisy behavior from counter-protestors.
The statue does not belong in a public space, Project Say Something argued. The group supported a proposal to relocate it to a cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried.
The 20-foot-tall courthouse monument known as “Eternal Vigil” depicts a nameless Confederate soldier. It was dedicated in 1903 when Confederate descendants were erecting memorials all over the South to honor their veterans.
Project Say Something began almost daily protests against the monument in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The monument stands outside the Lauderdale County Courthouse, property controlled by the county commission.
Alabama’s 2017 Memorial Preservation Act, which was approved as some cities began taking down Confederate monuments, forbids removing or altering monuments more than 40 years old. Violations carry a $25,000 fine.
Some counties and cities, including Birmingham, have opted to take down Confederate monuments and pay the $25,000 fine.