September 18, 2021

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What a First Amendment Audit Is and Why It Matters – Watch Pooler, Ga. Courthouse Audit

I am a citizen concerned about the erosion of our civil liberties. So, I went on a mission to check on local officials near me by arriving with a cellphone / video camera to walk through the local official buildings that my taxpayer funds support and pay the salaries of elected officials.

This process is known as the 1st amendment audit:

First Amendment of the United States Constitution: Congress will not issue any law that respects the institution of a religion or prohibits its free exercise; or reduce the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble peacefully and to ask the government for redress for grievances.

First Amendment Auditing Definition: The practice of exercising your constitutional right to record video for the purpose of educating anyone who attempts to violate that right and praising those who respect it.

A successful audit is one in which the auditor is treated the same way he would be treated without a camera.

Many people also consider audits to be successful if security or law enforcement are called, with only small questions before the called party leaves.

Essentially, a city reporter chooses to monitor a public building and government personnel by filming them using non-private areas. The act of filming allows the auditor to test building staff and / or law enforcement on their adherence to the United States Constitution and guarantee our first amendment or protected rights.

The goal is transparency and accountability towards citizens who finance governance. These checks can take place in any venue that is publicly funded by the local, state or federal government such as courts, sheriff’s offices and city halls, to name a few. Auditors are not contradictory, do not pose threats and respect private offices and courtrooms. The US Supreme Court has ruled that photography / video is considered a legitimate right inside government buildings, read cases here.

The act of walking through the doors of your town hall and into the lobby with your cell phone footage shouldn’t cause an alarming response … right? You would be surprised how often auditors are greeted with “This is not allowed here” by security or general staff, but why? Perhaps it is a lack of civic knowledge and the auditor has the opportunity to educate government employees about the constitutional rights of citizens. But in the event that it is not a question of lack of knowledge, but of belligerence and avoidance, the purpose of why 1st amendment audits are carried out in the first place becomes apparent.

Check out my most recent review of the Pooler, Georgia Courthouse.

On this particular day and audit, the inside tour was on multiple floors. The architecture and beauty of this complex are evident and very well maintained. I could see the accessibility for the disabled and the clear signs to find your destination. Each interaction was different and for the most part friendly. Robin, the secretary’s only concern with my presence in the public areas seemed to be focused only on her avoiding being filmed, but she was more than okay with me filming the reception area. The two agents who had obviously been warned that I was moving inside with my cell phone footage met me on the stairs. Agent Wilson asked for my identification but forced me to do so in accordance with my fourth amendment. And Agent Miller seemed to have realized that I was auditing and seemed pretty happy that I was doing it.

Then there was John Schmidt who suddenly appears at the top of the stairs asking to know my purpose for being in a public government building and registering public areas. Schmidt had a clear attitude and immediately became accusatory, arrogant and contradictory. It took the police officer to intervene and inform Schmidt and me that I was free to comment, much to Schmidt’s dismay. The exchange did not lend itself to effective communication, and the only communication Schmidt wanted was the edict that I would be leaving.

Compared to the last audit done in Springfield, look here, Agent Wilson understood my constitutional rights inside a federal building, and Agent Kite from Springfield did not. Kite was recorded stating that “his courthouse was banned and it is not a public building”. What did he not want Officer Kite to be observed by the public? The Kite Agent interaction begins at 19 minutes.

If you have any observations or would like to express anything regarding viewing this audit at the Pooler Courthouse, contact the City of Pooler, (912) -748-7333, and don’t forget that tax money pays for employee salaries.

If public officials can’t be respectful of citizens and respect their first amendment rights while the camera is on … what do you think they do when no camera is there to capture it?

Syndication source for the original RWR article.