Watch people explain in their own words why they’ve chosen to exercise their freedom of assembly–whether they’re protesting the repeal of Obamacare, rallying for President Trump, or showing their support for Palestine.
|Example: Edwards v. South Carolina|
During the civil rights movement, 187 African-American students marched to the South Carolina statehouse grounds carrying signs with messages such as “Down With Segregation.”
Although the demonstrators were peaceful and no violence erupted from onlookers, the marchers were all convicted of breaching the peace.
However, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions in its 1963 decision Edwards v. South Carolina, finding that the government cannot criminalize “the peaceful expression of unpopular views.”
|Example: Snyder v. Phelps|
In the late 2000s, the Westboro Baptist Church became infamous for protesting the funerals of American solders killed in Iraq, claiming that God was punishing America for its support of gay rights.
In 2006, the family of slain soldier Matthew Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church and several of its members for protesting at Matthew’s funeral, displaying signs that said, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “Fag troops.” A judge awarded the family $5 million in damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress–but the Supreme Court found that this judgment violated the First Amendment, because it involved the government inflicting a penalty on a protest, based on the viewpoint of the protesters.
Chief Justice Roberts emphasized that the Westboro protesters had complied with lawful police orders by maintaining a certain distance from the funeral; spoke about public issues; and conducted their protests on public streets.
“The record confirms that any distress occasioned by Westboro’s picketing turned on the content and viewpoint of the message conveyed, rather than any interference with the funeral itself. A group of parishioners standing at the very spot where Westboro stood holding signs that said ‘God Bless America’ and ‘God Loves You,’ would not have been subjected to liability.” – Chief Justice John Roberts
A law that punishes protesters because of the messages on their signs is unconstitutional, no matter how horrible those signs messages might be.
In the past year, a wave of protests have been organized to oppose President Trump and his Administration’s policies. This has led to some pushback from state lawmakers. State lawmakers have proposed laws that would make it harder to protest, create harsher penalties for protesters who are arrested, and remove liability from drivers who accidentally hit protesters with their cars. Click through the slideshow to see what anti-protest bills have been proposed in different states–and which bills have passed and become laws in the past year. For more information, see the U.S. Protest Law Tracker from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.