February 28, 2012

The House Attacks Our Rights

First, let's be clear about the First Amendment:
"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 official story of H.R. 347 is that Congress wants to make it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House.  This is in response to several cases in recent years where some citizen decided they wanted to make a point to the President in person.  Currently, it's not clear that it's illegal for citizens to enter White House grounds to protest something; after all, it's not private property; taxpaying citizens pay for it. It might be illegal, but it's a gray area.  So Congress is doing what Congress does, it's passing a law to clarify the matter.

But it may be doing more than simply making the White House more secure.

Let's look at H.R. 347, introduced by Representative Thomas J. Rooney, (R-Fla Dist. 16), which was passed in the House of Representatives 388-3, to see what the fuss is about
(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; or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
Well, disrupting the status quo has long been part and parcel of large protests, going back to The Boston Tea Party. Sure, we don't want every Tom, Dick, and Harry urinating on the White House porch to show their disdain of the President.  But the law doesn't stop at simply keeping people off the White House lawn without permission:
(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...
"Special event of national significance?"  Like an Independence Day celebration?  Or a Thanksgiving Day Parade?  This is awfully vague.  Consider:
Congress shall make no law respecting... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
What this bill seems to say is that if a group of citizens gathers in a crowd outside someplace the President is at - the White House, Congress, a high school auditorium, whatever - with the intent of making sure that he sees them and hears their message, that they will be arrested if that protest hampers him in any way.  I can see Richard M. Nixon being delighted with this kind of law.

The way I read it, if protestors are outside the Capital building and chanting "Give Peace A Chance" loud enough that Congress can't ignore them, they could be arrested.

And the punishment is no slap on the wrist; if the citizen is exercising their second amendment right to bear arms, as many Tea Party attendees have done in the past, they could face up to ten years in prison.  And even if they aren't armed, they could do a year in jail.

Tom Rooney seems to be turning his back on our Founding Fathers, and trampling all over the Constitution; the First Amendment is intended to allow protest,  LOUD protest.  What good is having the freedom to say what you want when you can't say it loudly enough not to be ignored without being thrown in jail?
Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech...
When you can be thrown in jail for speaking loudly enough that Congress has to stop to listen, Freedom of Speech has clearly been abridged.

This is a bad law.

1 comment:

  1. Nixon had higher standards than this. During the anti-war protests in DC, he and Mitchell directed that the troops protect federal property but not otherwise interfere with the protesters. He even went for a walk among the protesters at night in order to speak with some of them. Contrast that to the actions of the *governors* who sent in the national guard with orders to quell the protests.
    This law looks to me like the GOP wants to lay some groundwork for after they victory in November.