A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: anti-protest law

A Willful Misunderstanding of the Anti-Protest Law

By Russell Smith

Earlier this month President Obama signed H.R. 347 into law despite vigorous opposition from free speech activists. This “anti-Protest” law threatens serious punishment (up to one year in federal prison) for those who – in the police’s determination – cross the blurry line between peaceful protest and disorderly conduct in or around areas closed off by the Secret Service.

And where do activists typically want to protest? As close as possible to important policymakers like the President, Vice President, presidential candidates and foreign heads of state – all of whom are entitled to Secret Service protection under federal law.

These restrictions are not new. H.R. 347 amends an existing federal law that made it a crime to “willfully and knowingly” enter, block or be disorderly in or around public areas which have been closed off by the Secret Service. H.R. 347 removed the word “willfully,” so that demonstrators need to only “knowingly” violate the law.

The media and politicians alike were quick to point out what a difference the deletion of a single word makes. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog specifically noted the “difference one word can make.” Meanwhile, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) wrote on his Facebook wall that removing “willfully” made protesting a crime “even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area.” And Fox News political and legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote that with the word “willfully” gone, “a person accidentally in a restricted area can be charged and prosecuted, as well.”

They’re wrong. Even though H.R. 347 is a blatant violation of Americans’ right to protest, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the word “willfully.”   (more…)

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