"Allocation of space in public discourse is thus one of the most important aspects of power distribution in society." - James Griffith, MD and Melissa Griffith, MSN
The American people use public space to make their views known, their voices heard. Public space is the zone of free speech. Or, at least, it is supposed to be.
H.R. 347 - Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, seeks to peel back the rights of the American people to gather on government grounds. This bill may have begun in earnest to protect the President and extend protections from the White House to any place the President travels, but the imprecise language has opened the door for the government to shut down peaceful protests at will--a dangerous threat to our freedom of speech.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
H.R. 347, or the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011," passed 388-3 in the House and unanimously in the Senate, will effectively squash American protest and prevent peaceful assembly.
If signed into law, the bill will make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.” This means that people--including protesters--are not allowed access to any "building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” or “a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance," a designation left to the whims of the Department of Homeland Security. This, of course, would prevent protests in any place the President, or any other politician protected by the Secret Service (including Presidential candidates within 120 days of the election) might choose to travel, regardless of whether the public is aware of their presence or not. The following events have qualified as national security risks: Super Bowl XXXVI, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. H.R. 347 would make a peaceful protest in close proximity to these events a federal crime.
H.R. 347 essentially creates a bubble around the most important political figures, ensuring that they do not have to be exposed to voices of dissent.
We are standing at a crucial moment in American history. The members of the House and Senate have already played their hands; their support of H.R. 347 illustrates that they stand against American voices of protest. They stand against the right of peaceable assembly. They stand against the Constitution.
Let us urge President Barack Obama to stand up in support of the Constitution and veto H.R. 347.
For full text of the bill, see: