Gerald G. Doane: Our assembly and petition rights have been hijacked
Gerald G. Doane
The rights to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for grievances” are inalienable. The “assembly” and “petition” rights are part of the First Amendment to the Constitution and are sacrosanct along with the other rights of free expression; “religion,” “speech,” and “press.”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from enacting legislation that would abridge the right of the people to assemble peaceably and petition the government for grievances. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution makes this prohibition applicable to state governments.
So, how does one hijack “assemble” and “petition” rights for political purposes? Simple, by redefining the word “peaceably” and by neglecting one’s authority.
In 2014 the Law Library of Congress researched the “Right to Peaceful Assemble: United States.” That research is quoted, without citations, below. Please read carefully.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment protects the right to conduct a peaceful public assembly. The right to assemble is not, however, absolute. Government officials cannot simply prohibit a public assembly in their own discretion, but the government can impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of peaceful assembly, provided that constitutional safeguards are met. Time, place, and manner restrictions are permissible so long as they ‘are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, … are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and … leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.’
“Such time, place, and manner restrictions can take the form of requirements to obtain a permit for an assembly. The Supreme Court has held that it is constitutionally permissible for the government to require that a permit for an assembly be obtained in advance. The government can also make special regulations that impose additional requirements for assemblies that take place near major public events.
“In the United States, the organizer of a public assembly must typically apply for and obtain a permit in advance from the local police department or other local governmental body. Applications for permits usually require, at a minimum, information about the specific date, time, and location of the proposed assembly, and may require a great deal more information. Localities can, within the boundaries established by Supreme Court decisions interpreting the First Amendment right to assemble peaceably, impose additional requirements for permit applications, such as information about the organizer of the assembly and specific details about how the assembly is to be conducted.
“The First Amendment does not provide the right to conduct an assembly at which there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or interference with traffic on public streets, or other immediate threat to public safety or order. Statutes that prohibit people from assembling and using force or violence to accomplish unlawful purposes are permissible under the First Amendment.”
End of research.
There has been “riot, disorder, interference with traffic on public streets, and other immediate threats to public safety and order” in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlottesville, Berkeley, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and in so many other cities across the United States in recent days, weeks, months and years. Most were not peaceable protests but unlawful assemblies and to say otherwise is to ignore the evidence.
In most of these “unlawful assemblies,” police did not overreact but underreacted and they underreacted upon the orders of their political leaders who were either afraid to engage the rule of law or who were intentionally ignoring the rule of law for their own political purposes. I fear the latter is the more accurate motivation in most cases.
What must our communities do to protect First Amendment rights and still provide for the public’s safety and security?
A strategy of timidity and negligence is a poor strategy when defending constitutional rights and keeping the public safe and secure.
Who is in charge of strategy? Not the cops. It is the political leaders such as mayors, city councils, boards of supervisors, sheriffs, and governors who set enforcement policy. Period.
There are adequate laws to protect both the rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for grievances and the public from “riot, disorder, interference with traffic on public streets, and other immediate threats to public safety and order.” Just look them up. Please!
So, do not blame or defund the police. Vote out the timid and negligent political leaders who have abused their powers of discretion.
Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.
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