County Limits Gatherings in Private Homes in Fairfax Virginia

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 08:17 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Fairfax County in Virginia is seeking to limit gatherings at private homes to 49 people a day, a proposal that's irking civil liberties groups who say the law would infringe on the U.S. Constitution's right to assemble.

County officials will kick off a series of public hearings this week to heed residents' comments about the zoning ordinance, which would also limit "group assembly" to no more frequently than three times in any 40-day period.

"Over the last several years, there have been complaints from residents regarding frequent and large gatherings at neighborhood homes. These gatherings can create parking, noise, and other concerns for the neighborhood," Fairfax officials wrote on the county website.

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"Although occasional, large gatherings – such as private parties, house concerts, religious meetings, and social clubs – are expected and permissible activities at a home, gatherings that occur on a regular basis involving numerous people can detract from the residential nature of a neighborhood because most residential structures and neighborhoods are not designed to accommodate such events."

But some county officials feel the proposal would step on citizens' constitutional rights.

"I believe the county is risking a lawsuit and/or a constitution challenge by interfering with peoples' right to assemble," Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity told Watchdog.org. "This is yet another instance where we appear to be punishing the many for the actions of the few."

Civil liberties experts agree. John Whitehead, an attorney and president of the civil-libertarian Rutherford Institute, even referred the Fairfax plan as "nefarious."

"Broad enactments like these have governments assuming that private property is their property," he told Watchdog.org. "If you can’t determine what goes on at your own residence, you have surrendered your rights. The Constitution is founded on property rights."

The Fairfax proposal wouldn’t be the first strict zoning ordinance in the country. In 2012, a Phoenix pastor was sentenced to 60 days in prison for holding Bible study at his home, the Arizona Republic reported.

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