The Latest Assault on the First Amendment
On March 8, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act Of 2011. Given the highly partisan and adversarial nature of relations in the House and Senate on other issues the past three years, one would think the vote would be contentious and divided along party lines.
However, that was not the case. As a bill, known as S.1794/H.R.347, it was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on February 6, 2012, and passed in the House on February 12, 2012, 388-3. There were 42 abstentions.
The media never really covered the passage of this law. Very little was said until the contents started to come out in conservative blogs and on Fox News. Former Judge Andrew Napolitano provides a compelling analysis of what this new law means at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SGWH3kirzg&feature=share
There was concern among conservatives that the new law was an assault on our First Amendment right of free speech and assembly. In an effort to understand why people would jump to this conclusion, we need to take a look at the contents of the bill. As legislation goes, this one is comparatively short. The areas of the bill which stimulate the most controversy read as follows:
‘(a) Whoever –
‘(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so;
‘(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘(c) In this section –
‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area –
‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;
‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or
‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and
‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’…
The terms used are very vague and this law seems to give the Secret Service very broad authority to determine where or when to enforce it.
For example, the G-8 Summit is coming to Frederick County. With all the world leaders in attendance, the Secret Service, for all intents and purpose, will be in charge of large areas of our county. Should there be any protests in the area that the administration deems a problem, participants could be arrested and charged with a felony. Of course, the converse is true. If there are demonstrators with whom the administration agrees, they might be left alone. There are no clear cut guidelines.
The concern should be that with a government which has the tendency to look for ways around the Constitution by doing with regulation what should be done with legislation, there is no telling what rules will be created in administering this law.
One thing is for sure; if perceptions are reality, the perception here could be one of the elected officials trying to insulate themselves from otherwise law-abiding citizens, who may choose to peacefully assemble to petition their government.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791, and 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.”
Given the concerns being raised, our elected officials should be forced to explain why they voted for this bill. What was their thought process and what were they trying to accomplish?
Suspicion of Congress and the president should always be high in cases where there seems to be an assault on our rights under the Constitution. Always remember, these very same legislators are the ones who exempt themselves from laws the rest of us must obey. Also of interest is that many of the legislators who voted for this law were vehemently against the Patriot Act because it encroached on our constitutional rights. What changed?
By design, the Constitution recognizes the people are the final authority in this country. It is from the people the government derives its powers, duties and responsibilities. The role of the federal government is limited with most powers remaining with the states and the people.
Does this new law endanger our rights? Read it, study it and then decide. If you decide wrong, free speech may be on the verge of extinction in this country. Once a populace is silenced, it is easier for tyrants to take control.
There are Americans who say we are not in danger from our government; our government would never try to enslave us. That can never happen here.
Remember, the people of Nazi Germany said the same things just prior to the rise of Adolph Hitler. They were a democracy with severe financial problems as are we. They were also divided against themselves.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s happening here and our government uses it as an excuse to grow its involvement in every facet of our daily lives, just like the German government did in the 1930s.
Our rights under the First Amendment are paramount to preventing our becoming slaves to a tyrannical government.
The people are the ultimate authority when it comes to our government. It needs to stay that way.