Goodbye, First Amendment: House Bill HR 347 will make protest illegal
Update II - This post (9,900 + hits) seems to be generating a lot of rancor over the internet at "liberal" websites, because I used a link to a Russia Today article, and also because there are blogs decrying the bill on "libertarian" websites. I guess I should take that as a compliment because normally ACLU members are accused of being "liberals"; IMHO, truth doesn't have a political ideology, or bias --- but people do. FYI, I could have linked to this Dailykos diary but I thought the RT article was more informative. And I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know the nuances of the law, but Wells C. Bennett is, and he writes
- So how important is the elimination of the “willfully” requirement? The answer will depend on how the revised statute is enforced, but, on first glance, the change is not obviously trivial. “Willfully” generally requires more than “knowingly.” As the Supreme Court once put it, in order convict under the “willfully” standard, a jury “must find that the defendant acted with an evil-meaning mind, that is to say, that he acted with knowledge that his conduct was unlawful.” Contrast this with the “knowingly” standard, which only “requires proof of knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense,” unless a statute’s text dictates otherwise – and H.R. 347’s text certainly doesn’t dictate otherwise. Also remember that many people – foreign leaders, vice presidential and presidential candidates, and so on – sometimes can qualify for Secret Service protection. In an election year, that can mean a lot of areas restricted on account of official visits, and thus a lot more opportunities for citizens to wander, deliberately or not, into temporarily restricted places.
Update - The Senate has also passed this bill, and it's been presented to the President for his signature
- Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further: The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.
The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.
Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.
Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.
The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."
It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.
Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.
Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.