City Council Breaks Promise to South Carolina Resident and Threatens to Seize His Property

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Brian Johnston, a resident of Liberty, South Carolina, has run into some troubling problems with his local government. He possesses about 60 chickens on his property that were passed down from his father. But now, a newly implemented ordinance threatens his freedom to keep his birds.

Johnston’s family has resided at the residence in Liberty for six decades. They have raised gamefowl and other types of chickens from the beginning. A few years ago, the city passed ordinances limiting the number of chickens and other types of animals one can keep on their property.

The ordinance mandates that no resident without a permit “shall keep or be permitted to keep on his premises any animal defined as livestock for sales, hire, slaughter or other food source, competition, display or for exhibition purposes…unless otherwise allowed by applicable zoning.”

The measure also places strict limits on the “[r]aising or keeping of domestic female chickens.” The ordinance states:

No more than six domesticated female chickens shall be kept or maintained on a single premises. It shall be unlawful to keep roosters or more than six domesticated female chickens.

Under the previous members of the city council, the local government told Johnston that he would be grandfathered into the law because of his family’s long history of owning the birds. This would mean he would get to keep his animals. The same “handshake” agreement also applied to other families who owned horses and cattle.

Nevertheless, the winds of change blew hard in November 2022 when a new administration was voted in. Shortly after, police officers visited Johnston’s property and informed him he would have to get rid of his chickens to reduce his flock to a mere six hens. He would also have to obtain a permit to keep the birds, and the city would have the authority to conduct monthly inspections of his property. The officers cited him $100 for keeping more chickens than is allowed by the law.

Johnston has fought to preserve his family’s legacy, seeking support from neighbors through a petition. He hopes to show the city that his chickens are not a nuisance or a threat to public health. So far, the response has been fines and a court date.

Johnston’s situation raises a series of important questions. For starters, why should any governing authority be empowered to limit the number of chickens or other animals a person is allowed to possess? If the animals are not harming other people or their property, this type of measure is not justified.

Moreover, the notion that the government made an agreement, even if it wasn’t official, with Johnston and other families residing in Liberty and then reneged on it is also problematic.

Those favoring such ordinances might argue that chickens can carry diseases like the avian flu or other pathogens. They might also suggest that noise could be an issue for neighbors, affecting their ability to live peacefully. However, none of these arguments apply to Johnston’s situation or most others. Even further, the government probably isn’t the best entity to deal with avian flu, given that it has killed millions of chickens under the guise of addressing the disease.

Johnston’s situation is one of many showing how important it is to protect property rights. There are plenty of cities like Liberty that have passed similar ordinances, which means there are untold numbers of Americans being forced to give up their property for flimsy reasons. For now, Brian Johnston continues his quest for justice. His story serves as a reminder that community voices should always be at the forefront of the decisions made by their local governments.

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