The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests or civilian intrusions in any area where government officials are nearby, tearing away at the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
The new legislation would make it a federal offense for anyone to protest or assemble without permission on grounds where the Secret Service is protecting a government official or any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”
The language of the bill is incredibly broad and open to the interpretation of prosecutors. Starting with making it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, the grounds or buildings included as off-limits even cover those that the President – or whatever other official protected by the Secret Service – is residing temporarily. It would even include a peaceful protest outside a presidential candidate’s concession speech, for example.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) was one of only three in the House to vote against the bill. On his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash wrote, “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 it’s illegal.”
“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” he added.
The bill already passed the Senate on February 6 and has only to be signed by President Obama to become law. The government already has inordinate ability to crush free speech, silence protesters, and arrest civilians peacefully assembling, but this legislation would mark the beginning of the end of the First Amendment.