The First Amendment protects Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly. Unfortunately, at various times in US history, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have disregarded these protections, targeting people or groups based on political viewpoint, religious affiliation, or participation in lawful protests. The advent of the internet as the new “town square,” has opened a new front in the battle to protect free speech and assembly, and new technologies make it easier for the government to track our communications and movements both on and offline, inhibiting our willingness to dissent.
Undercover agents have infiltrated law-abiding activist groups, police have beaten and tear-gassed protesters at peaceful protests, and people are considered suspect merely because of their real or perceived Islamic faith. On the internet, police and intelligence agencies monitor social media and speech that should be protected by the First Amendment is considered evidence of “material support for terrorism.”
Dissent is being criminalized by DHS Terror Threat Assessments that name environmentalists, practicing Muslims or people with Ron Paul bumper stickers as potential terrorists, by legislation that conflates activism with terrorism (as in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), and by over-policing at protests and restrictive “free speech zones.”
According to ICE’s data, there was a 41% increase in the number of undocumented immigrants arrested by the agency in 2017 compared to the previous year.
Crystal Jones is our November Patriot. Cleveland’s first female heavy equipment operator demanded free speech (and got it).
Ms. Jones recently settled a lawsuit that she filed in 2017 against the City of Cleveland forcing the City’s Administration to cease the suppression of her and her co-workers first amendment rights to free speech relative to working conditions on the job, misogyny, and disparate treatment.
The National Park Service is considering new regulation that would severely curtail the right to protest. Reactions to these new regulations have been overwhelming. The comment period closed on October 15. We don’t yet know the total number of comments received, but so far the NPS has counted over 71,000 comments. This count is still growing.
A broad array of civil society groups and thousands of individuals are deeply concerned about a set of proposed regulations promulgated by the National Park Service that would make it much more difficult and expensive to organize protests on the National Mall or at the White House.
The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering an outrageous bill that could be used to criminalize protest at an array of locations including gas pipelines, which the state calls “critical infrastructure.”