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Mar-08-2012 14:46printcomments

H.R. 347: Get the Truth on the New 'Protest Law'

From Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund: includes fact sheet written by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund: Courtesy: Law and Disorder

(WASHINGTON DC) - This past week there has been a rallying cry in defense of free speech sounding the alarm that there is brand new legislation, H.R. 347, that some have wrongly argued radically transforms the landscape for protestors in the United States. Today, President Obama signed H.R. 347 into law.

Much of what has been written about H.R. 347 is not correct. We are writing this to clarify the situation and separate fact from fiction.

Many of the articles and email blasts claim that the law at issue, H.R. 347, “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” was written in response to, and targets, the Occupy Movement and is a new full scale assault on dissent in general. There have been alerts, articles and email campaigns urging people to take action asserting that the new bill “criminalizes protest,” is “severely curtailing First Amendment liberties,” “makes protest illegal,” is “outlawing the Occupy Movement,” and makes “free speech a felony.” There is even one campaign titled, “Say Goodbye to Your First Amendment Rights.” Sounds alarming.

At the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, we have received many calls and inquiries regarding the central question: how does this law affect protestor rights?

We think these facts will help:

Fact: H.R. 347 does not represent a new law regulating free speech rights.

Most of the language of H.R. 347 has been on the books since 2006. H.R. 347 is an amendment to an existing law, 18 USC § 1752 “restricted buildings and grounds,” that has existed in various forms since 1971. The most significant amendments to the law occurred in 2006.

The law is a bad law -- but it has been a bad law for years. Much of the language that people are talking about this week already exists and has existed for years. The language about “an event designated as a special event of national significance”? Already there. The language about “engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to” a restricted area? Already there. The language about “conspiracy”? Already there.

Fact: The purpose of the existing law, and why it’s bad.

The law as substantially amended in 2006 is very problematic and people should be rightfully concerned. What the law does (but this is not new) is it creates what is in essence a roving or movable zone of federal law enforcement jurisdiction around any person who is under Secret Service protection or in conjunction with a National Special Security Event (NSSE), as distinguished from a permanently fixed location. This allows for federal prosecution of persons who commit enumerated violations of the law within that zone and some of those violations read like classic protest activities.

Among other things, the law allows the Secret Service to designate what would normally be public space as a restricted area and for there to be federal prosecution of anyone who “enters or remains” in a restricted area where a person under Secret Service protection will be visiting or which is restricted in conjunction with an NSSE; or who engages in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent and effect of “imped[ing] or disrupt[ing] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;” or who blocks entrance to or exit from a restricted area.

Certain major events are designated as NSSEs, and there are at least three on the horizon this year. They include DNC and RNC major party conventions this summer and the NATO meeting in Chicago in May. Other events that are so designated have included IMF/World Bank meetings, G-8 and G-20 meetings, the Inaugurations, and even the Super Bowl.

Fact: What is new about the H.R. 347 amendments?

1. The existing law required that for a person to be prosecuted under it, they would have had to carry out those described acts both “willfully” and “knowingly.” The requirement of “willfulness” generally means that a conviction requires proof that the person knew his conduct was unlawful. H.R. 347 strikes the “willfully” requirement. The new amendments appear to intend for a person to be convicted only by “knowingly” taking the actions described even if the person does not know that the actions are unlawful. As amended, a conviction arguably only requires proof that a person “knowingly entered” a certain area. This is an effort to lower the bar for prosecutors who would, arguably, no longer have to prove that a person knew his conduct was unlawful.

2. The other major change is the inclusion of the White House and grounds and the Vice President’s residence and grounds as fixed zones of designation. You might wonder why this is even necessary. Of course, entering into the White House and its fenced-in grounds is already a federal violation. We think this particular change is to target demonstration activity, specifically that which occurs on the White House sidewalk just outside the perimeter fence (as detailed in 36 C.F.R. §7.96 it is lawful to protest on the White House sidewalk, which is under National Park Service jurisdiction). We think that the Government wishes to make it easier to prosecute protestors who step up off of the White House sidewalk and stand on the concrete ledge supporting the fence, something which tourists can be seen doing all the time. We are also concerned that the Secret Service seeks to be able to expand its jurisdiction and authority to create pop-up cordoned off restriction zones in front of the White House extending to areas where demonstrators lawfully assemble. The PCJF will be closely monitoring the use of the new amendments and the existing law and is prepared to take legal action where merited.

Fact: There are no new penalties under this law.

Contrary to some of what has been written in the past week, there are no new penalties in the law. The law has also already been used in the past to prosecute demonstrators.

We do think that it is very likely that the Government is looking at the upcoming NSSE events which are sure to draw demonstrations and determining what is in their arsenal to arrest and prosecute persons engaged in protests. They are keenly aware of the growing social justice movement -- more than 6,700 peaceful protestors have been arrested in a sustained and coordinated attack against the Occupy movement since September 2011. This includes the 700 people falsely arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on whose behalf the PCJF has filed a class action lawsuit seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights.

Fact: What Should A Person Do Who Is Concerned About Free Speech Rights?

We believe in firmly defending fundamental First Amendment rights in the courts and in the streets. Challenge this law’s effect on protest, yes. But it is critical to have accurate information in hand to wage that fight and not to assert the death of free speech rights when we are not at that moment.

As with any law, we are cognizant of any adverse impact on free speech and protest and dissent. While this law, including in its already existing form, is adverse, and serious, it is essential that those of us challenging abridgments of free speech or restrictions on dissent do so from a basis that is factual and accurate.

It is equally important not to spread fear and inaccurate information that has the effect of chilling participation in collective action and demonstrations.

So here’s what else you can do: stay vigilant about our civil rights and civil liberties and be prepared to take action to defend them; sign up for news and analysis you can trust from the PCJF, and most importantly, keep going out to the streets!

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit constitutional rights legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices and government transparency in operations. The PCJF filed the class action suit challenging the NYPD's October 1 mass arrest of more than 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge. It has brought class action cases in which more than 1,000 persons were falsely arrested during protests in Washington, D.C., resulting in settlements totaling $22 million and major changes in police practices. The PCJF previously brought the successful litigation in New York challenging the 2004 ban on protests in the Great Lawn of Central Park. It is counsel with the National Lawyers Guild in Oakland, CA challenging police mass arrest tactics. It won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD’s unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. The PCJF previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to:

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hardcase December 11, 2012 4:31 pm (Pacific time)

What the hell is that remark supposed to mean? (Deleted)

Pax April 6, 2012 9:36 am (Pacific time)

The majority in the House (three nays and some abstentions) and unanimous majority in the Senate hold all of your elected officials accountable. Government truly does fear the people. No partisan politics here.

joedupont March 15, 2012 10:34 pm (Pacific time)

The bulk or the Senate, House of Representatives and the President have decided that anyone who protests any place where the Secret Service is being utilized should get up to 7 years in prison. Your fate will be determined by who ever the Secret Service is covering. Look up HR 347. These are the same people who decided that the President can have you "Taken Out" , Killed, "Waisted" without a trail or jury if you are perceived as a threat to "nation security". Yet a serial killer or those who bombed the World Trade Center can only get life in prison in NY! The US Constitution is dead! And the average fluorinated water drinking ,Vaccine injected schlemiel is clueless. They just keep going with the program. Meanwhile, Companies like Monsanto and the World Banks keep dividing the pie. Something big is happening around the world and I fear that we are next.

hc March 11, 2012 6:26 pm (Pacific time)

Wow, writer you did not mention that this law basically outlaws being "disruptive". That is very broad and can mean anything.

Jeanine Molloff March 10, 2012 11:13 pm (Pacific time)

I am the author of the article : HR 347 Trespass Bill Criminalizes Protest. If find many of the remarks encouraging us to calmly deal with this obscene theft of our liberties to be a disgrace. Most citizens are not lawyers nor can they afford one. Subsequently, to argue legal minutia in an effort to squelch public furor does the cause of liberty a horrible disservice. Whether some of this law traces back to 2006 is irrelevant--this law further criminalizes protest. Any person or group who even so much as 'disrupts' governmental functions, (and not merely the President,VP and entourage as this writer suggests)can be charged with a felony EVEN IF THEY HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE of such protected persons being on the premises. Do not DARE to tell me that this won't have a chilling effect on protest. Most citizens are not going to wait to see how the courts treat this legal wrangling--they simply won't protest. If George W. Bush had done this--we wouldn't be having this discussion--the entire left would be screaming. It is not less egregious when Obama does the same. Stifling 1st amendment freedoms is more than legal technicalities--when the imminent threat of felony prosecution is held out (even if found to be untrue) that threat has the same effect of stifling 1st amendment activity as if the Oval Office was about to push the nuclear button. This law and its predecessors are the legal nuclear option--specifically designed to intimidate the public into abdicating 1st amendment rights. Ms. Hilliard knows better. Frankly, where the XXXX were the civil liberties groups when this started? As for the legal profession--they have forgotten why they are supposed to exist. This law will not be obeyed and Congres s and the President can go to Hell.

1984 March 10, 2012 12:23 pm (Pacific time)

When he took away the 5th amendment, I said it didn’t affect me When he took away the 1st amendment, I said it didn't affect me When he took away the 2nd amendment, I said it didn't affect me But when he deactivated my FaceBook, I rose up to make a stand, but was alone Wake up America... Ron Paul 2012

Douglas Benson March 10, 2012 8:08 am (Pacific time)

The best way to fight this is to break the law.

Bob March 9, 2012 7:51 am (Pacific time)

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Dylan

ironboltbruce March 9, 2012 4:54 am (Pacific time)

Implying HR 347 is no big deal because much of it was already law is like saying NDAA 2012 is OK because we already had AUMF 2001.

Anonymous March 8, 2012 7:07 pm (Pacific time)

Please read the caselaw. Maybe Congress didn't. But the removal of "willful" won't do much. The standard for proving "knowing" in criminal law is not entirely strong when we are discussing knowledge of illegal conduct.

VETO H.R.☭347 March 8, 2012 6:41 pm (Pacific time)

Voice your opinion and tell president Obama to VETO Legislation Bill "H.R. 347" which violates the context of the First Amendment which states: "Congress shall make NO law…ABRIDGING…the RIGHT of the PEOPLE peaceably to ASSEMBLE, and to PETITION the Government for a redress of grievances." The Petition link is @ SAVE our first amendment rights by March 29, 2012! H.R.☭347 sets the precedence in taking away our rights "☮Tools" to keep this country FREE! Although you might not take part in these events (maybe because of your busy lives and in raising your children), it is because your able to raise your children in this free country that relies on these events. We certainly did not get our freedoms with H.R.☭347. So ask yourself this question (?), why is our U.S. Government always so concerned about those who express their objectionable views and believes to keep Government from interfering with our lives and families (?), that is the U.S. Government always trying to find ways to spend our hard working tax dollars in making deceptive "Law Titles" like the "Patriot Act" passed by Congress, which really should have been called the "Spy and search everyone ACT" or the "Make everyone’s private information public and pass it around in the N-DEx network ACT" and the so called Bill "SOPA and PIPA" pulled from Congress last month, which should have been called the "Keep citizens misinformed, ☭☪ompliant ACT" and to "Stop their freedom of speech from being expressed on the internet, by copyrighting the ©Bills and ©Laws being discussed ACT"? So you see, these B.S. / U.S. law titles like "The Trespass Act" which really should be called "Invisible and moveable property line with an asshole in the middle ACT" do not mean what they say, unless you read the context within! So please sign this petition @ and share it with your friends, since now is the only hope we have for our President to VETO this un-constitutional bill and to keep our country strong and free for You, Everyone and all Future Generations after. P.S. "Let’s be grateful this Petition did not infringe any copyright "PIPA" ©Laws pulled"

ironboltbruce March 8, 2012 4:36 pm (Pacific time)

I wrote the news release entitled "Outlawing the Occupy Movement: H.R. 347 Makes Free Speech A Felony". I stand behind what I wrote:

The Truth is the Truth, however inconvenient it may be.


Editor: We are the media, we publish what seems significant, readers need to take information and do their own research, and encourage others to do the same.  I can say with certainty that both IronBoltBruce and the group with this article are well intentioned; and even with respect to what this article adds, the law is still a creeping infringement on our rights as granted by our forefathers.  Remember, the power-brokers and banksters and all of their political stooges and sell-outs know,  that in a proper context, the government fears the people, not the other way around.  They are ensuring that these ideals are stripped from us and they rape our very core meaning as Americans, taking our Civil Rights, the ones that allow the public to gain leverage, and stepping on our heads with jack boots and we absolutely should never forget who is voting what, thanks all of you.  

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