crowd with banners
Image by Freepik

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in state-level legislation around the United States that impacts various elements of freedom of expression.

As mentioned in a PEN America article, “As a general trend, there is a clear and identifiable link between the increase in these legislative proposals and the rise of broad-based protest movements in the relevant states.”

These trends of increasing state legislation with regard to freedom of expression can be very concerning, especially when they are targeted to silence a specific group or benefit a specific line of beliefs. Referring to the point that “legislators sometimes make it explicitly clear that their bills have been proposed with specific protests in mind” suggests that our government is trying to steer people’s beliefs or silence them instead of encouraging an open forum.

The ability to express our beliefs is a strong value we hold in the United States. No matter what your stance is, you reserve the right to have it and to express it if you want. If legislation continues to increase in the same manner as it has for the last couple of years, it may make it increasingly difficult to participate in various forms of free expression.

With regard to policy as an avenue to regulate freedom of speech, it can be a slippery slope. Some policies are appropriate and should be used to protect citizens. The only time that the government should intervene in someone’s freedom of expression is when it is necessary to protect the public. Any protest should be allowed to take place as long as it is conducted in a peaceful manner, per the First Amendment, which protects the right to “assemble peaceably.”

There are two fairly recent instances in Arizona where peaceful protests posed a threat to public safety or became violent and caused damage to private property.

The first took place on May 30, 2020, in Scottsdale. “Hundreds of people converged on the mall in what started as a peaceful protest against police brutality. The night ended with smashed windows, walls tagged with graffiti, and people walking out with handfuls of merchandise.” The police intervened, and multiple arrests were made.

The second notable instance where peaceful protesting posed a threat to safety took place in both Tucson and Phoenix in June 2020. In both locations, protesters attempted to enter the I-10 freeway on foot. In Phoenix, police intervened to prevent people from walking onto the freeway. Neither arrests nor violence were reported in either instance, but the intervention in Phoenix was a means to keep protestors and people on the freeways from any harm.

I think it is beneficial for those organizing assemblies to be educated on ways they can express their views in a safe and peaceful manner. As stated in the American University Law Review, “Advocacy organizations’ work—in organizing and otherwise facilitating lawful protests and in training individuals to responsibly conduct nonviolent, direct civil action—merits protection under the First Amendment.”

Overall, any policy regarding peaceful assembly should only be in place to ensure public safety. Once a peaceful protest becomes violent or poses a threat to safety, the government should intervene.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *