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Sierra Club pushes for block on Boise noise laws ahead of climate strike

Lisa Young Sierra Club
Sierra Club v. City of Boise
Lisa Young, the director of the Idaho Sierra Club, leads a protest in Boise.

The Sierra Club is suing the City of Boise over laws governing public protests and wants a federal judge to temporarily block their enforcement before a climate strike next week.

The environmental advocacy group claims that three 70-year-old ordinances violate the 1st and 14th amendments.

The lawsuit focuses on one of the laws barring the use of loud amplification devices such as megaphones if they can be heard from residences or more than 100 feet away.

There are several exemptions, including for "sounds caused by parades, fireworks displays or any other event for which a permit for that type of activity is required," but the Sierra Club said the process for obtaining a permit to use sound amplification devices is unclear and "counter to the very nature of public protest."

Lisa Young, the Sierra Club’s Idaho Chapter Director, said, for years, she’s used megaphones at protests with no problem – but that’s changed recently. The lawsuit details four times the Boise Police Department cited protestors in violation of the noise ordinance since 2021.

Young said that’s led the Sierra Club to tone down its demonstrations.

“We've had to stop using amplified sound devices, megaphones or even PA systems -- even a simple Bluetooth speaker to play some music for participants at an event -- out of fear that we could be approached by police, ticketed, arrested.”

She said her organization needs to be extra cautious because many of its activists are high school students.

The City of Boise said it does not comment on ongoing lawsuits. In a reply filed in court Thursday afternoon, the city asked the judge to reject a preliminary injunction on the laws. It said the noise ordinances are constitutional and are intended "to prevent and regulate sound generated by loud amplification devices wherever it is deemed to be harmful to the health, safety, welfare or quality of life of the citizens of the City."

It also said the Sierra Club lacks standing because it hasn’t adequately shown its planned actions for a youth-led climate strike next Friday will violate city laws.

As part of a Global Climate Strike, the group's youth organization, the Idaho Climate Justice League, plans to march from the Idaho State Capitol to Boise City Hall and read letters to the city, urging it to advance clean energy programs.

Boise's reply to the lawsuit said members have not indicated in declarations that they will use a megaphone or other amplified device in a way that violates the law, "rather, they simply 'would like' to do so."

"Again, as long as they don't up their amps to 11 or unlawfully disturb residences, they will not run afoul of the ordinances," the city's reply stated.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for next Wednesday, April 17.

"I'm just really hopeful that the city of Boise can change its tune a little bit on this and support the local protesters, activists and passionate people to be able to exercise their rights in the capital city of our state," Young said.

A judge is expected to make a decision on the request for a preliminary injunction before the protest.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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