According to legislators in several states including Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Georgia and South Dakota, it should.
Republican legislators in 20 U.S. statehouses have proposed — and six legislatures approved — new restrictions on the right to assemble and protest so far this year, according to a new report by the Democrat-aligned State Innovation Exchange.
“These bills would create a new set of crimes, significantly harsher penalties, and costly fines that could apply broadly to anyone — whether they are supporters of the president, members of the Tea Party, or just concerned parents speaking out at a school board meeting,” according to an advance copy of the report. SiX works to advance progressive policies at the state level and calls the wave of bills a “new and disturbing trend.”
“Given this passage rate, there is every reason to think we will see more of these efforts in 2018,” said the report.
USAToday does a fair job in this story of making the push to criminalize some forms of protest mostly appear to be a Republican pipe dream, even while acknowledging violent clashes between antifa and police, the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville thanks to a literal NAZI-led protest and the general destruction of property and vandalism in the wake of the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest at Standing Rock.
But the study that looks at the current bills being considered by state legislators was produced by a Democrat-leaning policy group so it makes sense they would present it as partisan. The goal is clearly to win back those 900 state legislative seats they lost during the Obama presidency.
The larger question, of course, has to do with the non-partisan, Constitutional issue of free speech and assembly. As fellow RedState writer Jim Jamitis asked today in a post about the white supremacist website stormfront.org literally being kicked off the internet, what does this do to free speech?
The answer? No one really knows. Thanks to the all around bad behavior of violent protestors, looters, hate groups and violence inciters, we’re in uncharted First Amendment territory. And I would expect the issue — especially as more states pass these new rules on protesting — to end up before the Supreme Court soon enough. Which, like a never ending circus, has the potential to lead to even more protesting.
The right to freely assemble and speak is a rare gift in an increasingly despotic world. Let’s hope those that take advantage of it to cause destruction don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Time to get those judicial nominations approved, Democrats.