First Amendment defenders on Wednesday applauded a judge’s ruling that temporarily blocked Tennessee Capitol rules approved by state House Republicans, which earlier this week were used to remove gun control advocates from a subcommittee hearing.
The ruling was handed down by Davidson County Chancellor Anne Martin hours after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in response to the removal of three women—Allison Polidor, Maryam Abolfazli, and Erica Bowton—from a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Civil Justice on Tuesday. The protesters silently held signs reading, “1 Kid > All the Guns” at the hearing on Tennessee’s gun laws five months after a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, in which three children and three staff members were massacred.
The new disciplinary rules adopted by House Republicans on Monday barred members of the public from carrying signs in House galleries and committee meetings.
State Rep. Justin Jones (D-52), who was expelled from the House earlier this year for participating in a gun control protest after the shooting and won back his seat in August, noted that the rules banned signs in committee rooms—but allowed firearms.
“We applaud the court for taking swift action to protect the free speech rights of Tennesseans,” Stella Yarbrough, legal director at the ACLU of Tennessee, said in response to Wednesday’s ruling. “Democracy depends on people’s ability to express their opinions to their elected representatives on issues they care about, and this unreasonable rule stood in the way of people fully participating in the democratic process.”
Videos of the three protesters being forcibly removed from the hearing went viral Tuesday evening.
Tennessee House subcommittee members had state troopers physically remove gun safety activists who quietly held signs from a hearing.
We bow down to this woman who – visibly shaking – said: “You will have to drag me out.”
Moms will win. pic.twitter.com/aJSKdwiVUk
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) August 22, 2023
“You will have to drag me out,” one of the women told the Republicans who control the committee.
Another member of the public attending the hearing yelled, “You all won’t do this for people who bring guns to school,” as state troopers removed the protesters.
Shortly after the three women were led out, Subcommittee Chair Lowell Russell (R-21) called on the troopers to remove all members of the public from the hearing room, saying they were being disruptive.
The Tennessean reported that “the crying of multiple Covenant School parents could be heard” among the crowd of Tennessee residents who were kicked out.
Nick Hansen, the father of two Covenant School students, noted on social media that the Tennessee state Constitution guarantees that “the doors of each House and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.”
After expelling the constituents from the hearing room, Republicans on the committee voted in favor of legislation to allow teachers and members of the public to carry guns in schools, provoking an uproar among the crowd assembled outside the hearing room.
“You should all be embarrassed,” one women angrily told the lawmakers. “You do not represent us.”