In a guest post on the award winning legal blog, jonathanturley.org, Gene Howington highlighted how this relatively minor change would affect Americans big time.“The reworded law, as the bill is currently formulated effectively does away with intent as a requirement in addition to expanding the meaning of the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ to mean virtually any place in proximity to or place proper a government function or an ‘event of national interest’ is taking place. This would allow for the arrest of protesters just about anywhere. Outside political rallies, near the hotels of visiting foreign dignitaries, outside sporting or other public events like the Super Bowl . . . you get the idea.” said Howington, in his guest post, entitled Imprecise Language and the Risks of H.R. 347.
…it potentially makes peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. a federal felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
One of his biggest criticisms of the act is the vague language.
“It seems to be a trend that vague or overly broad language could be fairly described as being purposefully adopted allowing ‘wiggle room’ for Federal authorities to potentially abuse civil and human rights under the color of authority. This is a dangerous practice.… Is this an instance of vague/imprecise language creating the potential for civil rights abuses? Or is this an instance of purposefully vague/imprecise language to allow the government to infringe upon your rights to free speech, assembly and petition?”
Welcome to the new America, the land of the not-so free. In response to the critics, Michael Mahaffey, Tom Rooney’s communications director, issued a public statement, which dismissed concerns.
He said it was, “…a whole lot of kerfuffle over nothing. This (H.R. 347) doesn’t affect anyone’s right to protest anywhere at any time. Ever… right now it’s not a federal violation to jump the fence and run across the White House lawn, this bill makes it a federal violation.”
Mahaffey says citizens can protest just so long as it is not disruptive. Um. The point of protesting is to be disruptive. Protestors don’t want to sit quietly on a Sunday afternoon hoping officials will notice them. If a citizen goes to a protest, they can almost expect to be arrested because almost anything can be classified as “disruptive” if the official chooses it to be so.
In a democratic government, the power is suppose to rest with the people. The power to elect also comes with the power to criticize. The government, as a service to the people, should be listening to the wants and needs of all citizens, which includes the minority. Even if they do not act upon those views, it is still necessary to listen. This law takes away power from the people to publically criticize their government. Well, technically one can still criticize but it is less effective when one is serving a ten-year sentence.
“The dangerous part of this ‘executive order’ lies not in the triviality of a SuperBowl receiving taxpayer funded Secret Service protection — but in the convenience manufactured for any President desperate to hide deliberations of groups like the G-8, the G-20 and the World Trade Organization,” Molloff writes. “The classification of such events as NSSE — insures the rich and powerful against any pesky accountability or transparency to the unwashed minions — namely the US public.”
America prides itself as being a free and democratic country. Yet, it has amended a law to stifle freedom of speech, break up assemblies and muffle the ability to criticize. That does not sound free or democratic. Should the American public take some time to self-reflect? In doing so, they might realize they are not the country they thought they were. But of course, if American policy makers don’t think rights and freedoms are important then this is just a “kerfuffle over nothing.”
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U.S. Government Printing Office
American Civil Liberties Union
U.S. Department of Justice
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