Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Civil Rights Protest Now Super-Illegal Under Obama Administration-And No One Noticed

As a child growing up in the 1960s in Memphis, my mother and her brothers and sisters and her friends were frequently involved in protest affiliated with the civil rights movement. Whether if it involved getting arrested at the public libraries (which they did), or in front of city hall, it was never against the law to assemble. Them there days are over.

Without any mainstream media coverage, HR 347 was passed by a margin of 388 to 3and signed into law by President Barack Obama. This law makes it against the law to protest anywhere where the secret service is present. In addition, it specifically cites major public events, such as Inaugurations and Presidential campaigns. Yes even the Whitehouse or more specifically anywhere the President of the United States is present. What we saw in the 60s with civil rights or in the 70s with Roe V. Wade or the Vietnam War, where civil assembly as a form of free speech, can no longer occur if a President and his collective corpus of Secret Service are gathered.

Strange thing is it didn’t just happen yesterday, but last March 2012. Called the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, it has been described by some as making the First Amendment illegal or criminalizing the Occupy protests.

Even if the President or Vice President is not present, this law has some lasting draconian effects. For example, where ever world leaders are in the US visiting from abroad, they are normally assigned secret service agents for their protection. This now means that at meetings of the the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Secret Service can be used to suppress protests in or around certain restricted zones near individuals under its protection. This is consistent with anything that is defined to be a “National" by the Department of Homeland Security.

The types of conduct covered by the law amended by H.R. 347 includes: entering or remaining in one of these zones without "lawful authority"; Engage in "disorderly or disruptive conduct" in or near one of these zones that "impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government activities or official functions “and blocking or otherwise impede an entrance or exit to one of these zones (but you must again intend to disrupt government activities or official functions); or (4) Engage in any act of physical violence against person or property in any restricted zone.

In theory, HR347 is a re-write of a trespass law, originally passed in 1971 and amended a couple of times since. However, it still remains that the bill makes it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters. In the past, the government had to prove a certain state of mind for arrest and prosecution for most crimes.” Under the original language of the law, you had to act "willfully and knowingly" when committing the crime. In short, you had to know your conduct was illegal. Under H.R. 347, you will simply need to act "knowingly," which here would mean that you know you're in a restricted area, but not necessarily that you're committing a crime.”

In the Bill of Rights, there is a statement that 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.” As a constitutional scholar, I wonder if the President is aware of this.

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