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Huge Majority of U.S. House Votes to Criminalize Protest Against any Visiting World Leader

Is the Democratic Party the party of civil liberty?

Not anymore. Not if you judge by congressional Democrats’ action this past week in overwhelmingly passing H.R. 347, a bill that makes it a federal crime punishable by a year in jail to peacefully, non-violently protest “in the proximity” of a president, a vice president, a presidential candidate, or even a visiting world leader.

I’m not kidding: H.R. 347 really does those things. Read the text of H.R. 347, which makes it a crime to act in any way that might knock an event off-center if the event includes a secret-service-protected person like — yes — any visiting world leader. Even if that disruption takes the form of a peaceful, non-violent, non-trespassing protest nearby. So if a dictator comes to the United States, and you stand on a street corner with a hundred other people to carry signs and shout at his motorcade? That’s a federal crime now.

I say it’s a federal crime now because H.R. 347 passed. It didn’t pass by a small margin. Only three Representatives — Republican Justin Amash, Republican Paul Broun, and Democrat Keith Ellison — voted against it in the House (Roll Call 73). And nobody voted against it in the Senate — the measure passed by voice vote, and not one Senator made the necessary objection to force a roll call.

The Republican Party has long been the party of censorious authoritarianism. With this solid vote against the first amendment constitutional right to free assembly, free speech and petitioning for redress of grievance, the Democratic Party has yanked the mantle of authoritarianism firmly around its own shoulders.

This past Tuesday, when the vote for H.R. 347 quickly and quietly made its final passage from the Capitol building to the desk of the President, civil liberty had only 3 friends out of 535 members of Congress. I shudder at the thought.

10 comments to Huge Majority of U.S. House Votes to Criminalize Protest Against any Visiting World Leader

  • Charles Manning (manning120)

    It’s HR 347, not 374.

    I used to think the ACLU protected us against outrages like this. Not any more, although I remain an ACLU member. I view this legislation as another step toward tightening the grip on power of the 1%.

  • NomNomNom

    I think you have a small error: the 3 you name did not vote against the bill but rather against waving the rules and accepting the senate bill as was; Broun & Amash did also vote against it but Ellison did not. Also Ron Paul voted against it.
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-347 (the vote to accept the senates bill)
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=h2011-149 (the vote on the bill)

  • Bill

    Hmmm….

    Speaking as one who has been thrown in the slammer for “disorderly conduct” during a political protest, I must say that anyone who believes he has a constitutionally protected right to engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct [that] impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” is living in a fool’s paradise. This has always been seventeen different kinds of illegal. Same old same old: if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I don’t see anything in the language of this bill criminalizing peaceful protest which is not disruptive. If it did, I’d be pretty incensed too, but it doesn’t. Can Marshal Billy-Bob use it to throw your ass in the slammer, if only overnight, because he doesn’t like your protest sign? Sure. But our friends in blue have never lacked for excuses to do that.

    I’m really not clear on why Congress felt the need to pass this rather repetitive bill. Maybe it is a response to the Giffords shooting, as it packs a particularly hefty penalty for a violator in possession of a weapon? Even as something of a gun nut (a marksman, actually) myself, I’m strangely OK with that.

    Long story short, Jim, I’m having some trouble rising to the same level of indignation you express here.

    • The distinction I think’s important is that state and local cops have tended to do this a whole bunch, wrenching local laws around (“blocking the sidewalk,” “vagrancy”) to do so, while activists would be able to appeal to the federal, constitutional first-amendment standard. Now that recourse has been kicked away as well, and the feds have been explicit about it.

  • Craig

    I read the bill rather quickly, but it seems to require disruption or carrying a firearm which would apply to Tea Party gun carriers at presidential events which I see as a good thing.

    • Craig,
      Gun carriers? Maybe that’s worrisome potentially. But even though I disagree with most of what the Tea Party’s talking about, by far most Tea Partiers aren’t packing heat when they attend protests. (And actually, most Tea Partiers aren’t protesting much any more.)
      But just Tea Party? They have the right to dissent, and if their numbers are disruptive, that’s a sign of a popular protest movement, not a crime. This bill outlaws popular, massive protest that disrupts the president’s (or a visiting world leader’s) planned events. I don’t want to live in the new East Germany where all protest is legal except the kind that everybody comes to.

  • Jeff cline

    When the government votes in anyway to impede the rights given us by our Constitution, it should make one shudder, regardless of ones political beliefs. ThevDemocractic party that once proudly proclaimed itself the protector of individual liberty and freedom, now seems to be the one taking those freedoms away from us. Both parties are two sides of the same coin. If the IRS scandal didn’t scare you “progressives”, you’re idiots. When a Republican is elected in 2016, trust me, it will be your turn to cry “foul” when the new nazis break down your “legal” pot shop door.

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