Congress: Your First Amendment Rights Annoy Us

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Congress shall make no law regarding the 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 1st Amendment has been under attack by the American political elite for some time, and a bill voted on in the House on Monday sets the next portion of the Amendment in line for the chopping block.

The House voted this week 388-3 to pass H.R. 347 a bill called the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. The bill was slightly amended and voice-voted by the Senate earlier in the month; House passage of the Senate version sends it to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature into law.

Congress makes it illegal in the bill to trespass on the grounds of the White House. The wording in the bill, however, goes on to allow the government to enforce trespassing laws against more than tourists and protesters near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A portion of the bill explains who it criminalizes:

`(a) Whoever—`(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; `(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; `(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or `(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds.

The bill also explains what are considered restricted places for peaceful protesters:

`(1) the term `restricted buildings or grounds’ means 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; and `(2) the term `other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.

Basically, anyplace where Secret Service agents are present or any building where government business is being conducted is made off limits to “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” by language in the bill. Both GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are currently protected by Secret Service agents, and Newt Gingrich has asked for protection. Ron Paul is the only candidate who has said that he will likely not opt for Secret Service protection during the campaign.

According to the Secret Service website, the agency is authorized to protect:

  • The President, the Vice President, (or other individuals next in order of succession to the Office of the President), the President-elect and Vice President-elect.
  • The immediate families of the above individuals.
  • Former Presidents and their spouses, except when the spouse remarries.
  • Children of former Presidents until age 16.
  • Visiting heads of foreign states or governments and their spouses traveling with them, other distinguished foreign visitors to the United States, and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad.
  • Major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and their spouses within 120 days of a general Presidential election.
  • Other individuals as designated per Executive Order of the President.
  • National Special Security Events, when designated as such by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Because foreign dignitaries are often protected by the Secret Service, the Federal government could consider demonstrations against any foreign president on American soil a violation of Federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive.

Secret Service’s ability to be present at any “National Special Security Events, when designated as such by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security” is also particularly alarming for free-speech advocates, as it could mean no peaceable assembly just about anywhere Janet Napolitano sees fit. According to RT, about three dozen events in all have been considered National Special Security Events since the term was created by President Bill Clinton. Among the events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list were Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The only “no” votes on the bill were from Representatives Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

Amash commented about the bill on his Facebook page saying, “Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights.”

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.