‘Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us all.’ -- Justice William O. Douglas
President Obama signed into law last week the ‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,’ or H.R. 347, which makes free speech a felony by criminalizing protest. The House bill passed with overwhelming consent in both parties: 388 – 3.
The H.R. 347, a revised version of a trespass law, forbids the entering or obstructing of public areas occupied by the Secret Service when protecting an individual. The law prohibits disruptive protesting in other locations, such as at the White House and its grounds or at events of national significance.
Judge Napolitano views the H.R.347 as a first amendment violation allowing Secret Service to discern ‘no free speech’ zones. The law offers the Secret Service ‘unbridled discretion,’ and the power to repress protestors based on the content of their speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) concurs, stating that the new H.R. 347 creates an easier pathway for the Secret Service to ‘misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters.’ Under the original law one had to act "willfully and knowingly" when disobeying the law, whereas now one merely needs to act "knowingly."
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), one of three who voted against the House bill, explains the difference, stating, ‘The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it's illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect its illegal.’ Prior to the new H.R.347 revision, a trespasser had to know his or her behavior was illegal to face charges.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), the House sponsor, favors the bill as a ‘commonsense, bipartisan piece of legislation.’ He claims that Secret Service protection is ‘vital’ for evaluating security threats and creating a security ‘for our Nation's leaders.’
Perhaps Secret Service will implement the law with proper judgment and discretion. America does need to protect its leaders – must guard the people who guide the nation. However, the law also needs to protect American citizens.
The right to free speech is vital to America’s foundation. As with a foundation of any building, if a vital brick is ripped out, the rest may come crashing down after.
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