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Other Voices: Membership lists protected by Constitution

Two of our most sacred civil rights as American citizens are freedom of speech and freedom of assembly guaranteed by the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

And that includes the privacy of organizations’ membership/volunteer lists.

The Supreme Court ruled 50 years ago, during the civil rights era, that the requirement to make public a membership/volunteer list can result in suppressing an individual’s freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to “the advancement of beliefs and ideas,” in violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment (see NAACP v. the State of Alabama and Bates v. the City of Little Rock, Arkansas).



This may not seem like a big thing and how does this apply here in our community?

Over the years, a number of organizations have been asked to disclose their membership/volunteer lists by individuals, by elected officials, and the news media. Friends of Grass Valley is one of those groups. As one of the leaders of Friends of Grass Valley, I have chosen to not make public the list of volunteers helping our effort. Not only is this our constitutional right, it is just the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do because it allows the citizens of our community to participate in various organizations and efforts without the fear of reprisal.




I have found that most people do not want their names made public when they join a group, for many reasons – political privacy, worry about ending up on a telemarketing list, etc.

In Nevada County, there is another reason – fear and harassment. It is sad to say, but over the years, boycotts have been threatened, individuals have been unduly criticized for their stance on issues and some have even experienced harassing phone calls (which I have been a recipient).

Many residents are just plain scared of the treatment they might receive for participating in small-town democracy – it is understandably too high a cost for most. Unfortunately, it appears that this fear has even affected the amount of people willing to run for a local offices in this community.

In our society, privacy protections are common. We check boxes saying, “Don’t give my name out,” for example. Also, if you donate under $100 to a political campaign your name does not need to be reported. Also, medical records are private.

Recently, Friends of Grass Valley has been made to look bad because it will not make public our volunteers. We will not bow to this pressure. Other than what is required by state law, we will continue to adhere to the privacy of our volunteers and to the protection of their civil rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

Grant Cattaneo is chairman of Friends of Grass Valley and a resident of Grass Valley.


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