YELM, Wash. – The U.S. Constitution not only guarantees Americans the right to free speech, but also the right to petition for a redress of grievances. But apparently all that petitioning and free speech has gotten too noisy for officials in one Washington state city.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by Fox News' Dan Springer.
Tired of hearing residents complain about plans to build a mammoth Wal-Mart (search) in town, the Yelm City Council has banned the word "Wal-Mart" from its meetings. For good measure, it also passed a moratorium on the term "box store."
"You don't want to hear the same issue over and over again. I think that's what was taking place at the time is that the council was hearing issues night after night after night of council after council," said Mayor Adam Rivas (search).
Outside City Hall, Wal-Mart is the talk of the town, and the talk is not good. For one, a popular local bar would be leveled to make way for the mega-store's sprawling parking lot. And while some welcome the jobs, others fear the impact on local businesses.
Despite what side of the debate they fall on, most locals agree the speech ban is out of line.
"Our voice isn't heard. You know, just whatever they want to do is the way it is. So, if we have an opinion about something, we can't voice it," said resident Casey Allen.
The city has scheduled three days of hearings on the Wal-Mart issue. Until then, council members argue that because they'll ultimately decide Wal-Mart's local fate, all the box-store bashing could unfairly prejudice them against one of the world's largest employers.
"The actual legal process says that there will be a place and time for public comment on that particular issue, and it's not in a City Council meeting," Rivas said.
The speech ban has gone beyond the Wal-Mart issue. The City Council refused to hear public comment on a plan being floated to build a NASCAR track in Yelm, even though an application was never submitted. In defending the censorship, the city attorney said council members can decide what they want to hear and what they're tired of hearing.
That legal reasoning doesn't get much support inside or outside of Yelm.
"Public officials have to listen. And if they find it offensive, or just get tired of hearing people criticize them or criticize an issue, that's too bad. That's democracy," said Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union.
City officials aren't giving in, but the issue is a hot one in this town of 4,500, and voters will get themselves heard one way or another because, so far, the council hasn't banned the word "elections."