UPDATE: Whiteville city leaders vote to repeal contentious part of ‘trick or treat’ law

Whiteville city leaders vote to repeal contentious part of ‘trick or treat’ law
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) - With children across America preparing to dress up as goblins, ghouls and a multitude of fanged creatures this Halloween, the City of Whiteville voted to repeal the part of a toothless law regulating the age-old tradition of trick-or-treating at a meeting Tuesday evening.

City council members voted unanimously to repeal part one of an ordinance that applied restrictive rules to Halloween trick or treating and voted to accept a proclamation, with a few changes, that suggested safety guidelines instead.

The local ordinance regulating the spooky holiday was not a concept exclusive to Whiteville; other cities and towns across the state and country have, at some point or another, established rules for door-to-door candy seekers.

Last year, however, the City received “negative comments/press” over its position on Halloween, prompting staff to review the ordinance.

The ordinance stated trick-or-treating was only allowed before 8:30 p.m. on Halloween night by children 12 and under. Anyone older than 12 or trying to snag some late-night candy could be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, the penalties include up to 30 days in jail or a $50 fine.

“The City does not try to regulate other floating holidays, why is the City trying to regulate Halloween?” city staff questioned in a summary of the proposal to repeal the ordinance included in the agenda packet for City Council’s Tuesday night meetig.

Also included in the agenda packet was an article written by Pacific Legal — a nonprofit organization that offers legal services in the areas of property rights, individual liberty, and free enterprise — which opined that prohibiting trick-or-treating was a First Amendment violation. Specifically, the article pointed to the Supreme Court repeatedly upholding the right of individuals to engage in door-to-door solicitation for a variety of causes, including expressive activity.

“Trick-or-treating is consistent with this tradition of expressive door-to-door activity,” the article stated. “A trick-or-treater’s costume can be a form of speech protected against government censorship.”

Moreover, city staff acknowledged in the proposal summary that if someone were to contest a violation in court, a judge would likely rule the ordinance unenforceable.

As an alternative, staff several suggested safety guidelines the city could issue. City council voted unanimously to approve this proclamation Tuesday with some changes. The proclamation will now include:

  • Parents are asked to supervise the Halloween Trick or Treat Activities of their children and to ensure that Trick or Treat Activities are limited to children under the age of 16 years.
  • Individuals 16 and over with special needs will be allowed to participate.
  • Trick or Treat hours will be observed from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 31, 2021.
  • Residents who wish to participate in Trick or Treat are asked to leave a porch light, or other outdoor light on during these hours.
  • Parents are asked to explain to children that homes with no outdoor light are not participating in Trick or Treat and that these homes should be passed up during these activities.
  • Children will be encouraged to wear body lights or carry some form of light for visibility.
  • Families are advised to be careful in high-traffic areas.
  • It is also recommended for the safety of our children that parental supervision be extended to include insistence that children do not consume any “treats” until closely examined by their parents. Parents should follow the rule “if in doubt-throw it out” where evidence of tampering with packaging or surfaces of consumable product exists.

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