I found a video on Facebook, posted by a friend, of a Fox News segment with Judge Andrew Napolitano about a law that was passed last March. I didn’t realize at first that this was “old” news. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s highly suspect and completely unconstitutional.
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The law (18 U.S.C. 1752, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011), makes it a felony to “knowingly or willingly enter or remain in” a restricted building or area, engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to” it, disrupt the “orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” on restricted property including physical violence. The Amendment went even further.
The amendment added some definitions. First, “restricted buildings or grounds: “any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area:
(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;
(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or
(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance;”
Then it defined “other person protected by the Secret Service” as “any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum…” (emphasis added) FYI, the Secret Service protects a lot of people. Another FYI, Homeland Security has very broad authority to say that events like the Super Bowl are “events of national significance.”
Sounds innocuous enough, it’s for the protection of important people, right? Wrong! “Ok, Suzanne, we know you’re about to go on a crazy, conservative conspiracy rant.” Well, it’s not just conservatives who dislike this law. The ACLU doesn’t like it either. As scary as it is that I’m agreeing with the ACLU, they’re onto something. So let’s really look hard at what this law and Amendment are really doing.
First, it is setting out areas that are places where people can’t be, or do things. These areas are:
1. The White House or the vice president’s residence;
2. A building or area where any individual under Secret Service protection is visiting.
3. A temporary building or area where an event is taking place that has National significance.
In these zones, you can’t do several things. You can’t “knowingly” enter or stay in it. You can’t “disrupt” or be “disorderly” in it. You can’t block entrances or exits to the restricted zone or commit violence in them. The provisions about disruptions aren’t just WITHIN the restricted areas, but NEAR them as well.
In the previous law the phrase “willfully and knowingly” was used. The Amendment changed it simply to “knowingly.” This is important because it changes the requisite state of mind that must be proven during prosecution. “Willfully and knowingly” means you know you’re committing a crime, “knowingly” only means you’re aware you’re in a restricted zone. Another problem? The terms “disruptive” and “disorderly” aren’t defined, which leaves a lot to the discretion of the Secret Service.
Want some examples of how this could be used badly? Former President Bush is at an open air event and an Occupy protestor holds up a sign with Bush depicted as Hitler. The protestor is outside the restricted area, but within sight of it. The Secret Service Agent takes offense to the depiction, calls it “disruptive” and arrests the protestor.
A protestor is on the sidewalk outside the White House gates. They are holding a sign that depicts Obama as a monkey. Obama and his Secret Service detail see it and are offended. They call is a “disruption to government business” and arrest the protestor. Either sign is offensive. Both are also free speech and lawful assembly as defined by the SCOTUS.
Our Constitution guarantees us the right to gather as a group, confront our government and demand action. It’s called redress of grievances and right to peaceable assembly. I can go to any government office or building, stand on the sidewalk with a sign and make demands of my elected officials. Under this Amendment, I could be arrested because of the subjective view of another. Was there an intent to harm or disrupt? Doesn’t matter under the Amendment. Just being there and holding a sign, opening my mouth and speaking can be construed as disruptive. Under this law as it’s amended, exercising our FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS is now a FELONIOUS OFFENSE!!
For protection you say? Secret Service agents are highly trained Federal Agents. They are trained to look for body language, weapons, strange lumps in clothing, or whatever else could be a true threat to another. The average citizen protesting, holding a sign, yelling things or demanding our government do something isn’t a threat. This is simply a law passed to erode our First Amendment rights.
This law, as it’s amended (and arguably before), should scare the crap out of every American, no matter what your political affiliation. This is America, not the Soviet Union or China. We have rights enshrined in our Constitution, and we should never allow them to be abridged.
Image: Judge Andrew Napolitano; author: Gage Skidmore; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license