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laws are intended to silence those who voice unpopular ideas

“If the state could use [criminal] laws not for their intended purposes but to silence those who voice unpopular ideas, little would be left of our First Amendment liberties, and little would separate us from the tyrannies of the past or the malignant fiefdoms of our own age. The freedom to speak without risking arrest is ‘one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation.’”—Justice Neil Gorsuch, dissenting, Nieves v. Bartlett (2019)|If the government could utilize laws intended to punish criminal activity to instead quiet those who express unpopular opinions, our First Amendment rights would be severely diminished, and we would be little different from the tyrannical regimes of history or the oppressive fiefdoms of today. The ability to speak freely without fear of arrest is a defining feature of a truly free society, as stated by Justice Neil Gorsuch in his dissenting opinion in Nieves v. Bartlett (2019).

Tyrants don’t like people who speak truth to power. Dictators dislike individuals who challenge authority with honesty.

Cue the rise of protest laws, which take the government’s intolerance for free speech to a whole new level and send the resounding message that resistance is futile. The increasing prevalence of protest laws has elevated the government’s disdain for unrestricted expression to a new threshold, conveyancing the unequivocal message that dissent is futile.

In fact, ever since the Capitol protests on Jan. 6, 2021, state legislatures have introduced a broad array of these laws aimed at criminalizing protest activities. Subsequently, state legislatures have put forward a wide range of laws intended to penalize protesters, particularly following the demonstrations at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

There have been at least 205 proposed laws in 45 states aimed at curtailing the right to peacefully assemble and protest by expanding the definition of rioting, heightening penalties for existing offenses, or creating new crimes associated with assembly.|In 45 states, over 200 laws have been suggested to restrict the ability to gather peacefully and protest by broadening the definition of riots, increasing punishments for current violations, or introducing new offenses related to assembly.

Weaponized by police, prosecutors, courts and legislatures, these protest laws, along with free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws, and a host of other legalistic maladies have become a convenient means by which to punish individuals who refuse to be muzzled. Utilized by law enforcement, legal authorities, courts, and lawmakers, these laws restricting protests, as well as designated areas for free speech, restricted zones, trespass areas, anti-bullying regulations, zero tolerance rules, hate crime statutes, and various other legal challenges have become a convenient tool to penalize those who resist being silenced.

In Florida, for instance, legislators passed a “no-go” zone law making it punishable by up to 60 days in jail to remain within 25 feet of working police and other first responders after a warning. In Florida, lawmakers approved a law establishing a restricted area where individuals could face up to 60 days in jail if they do not move at least 25 feet away from active police officers and emergency responders following a warning.

Yet while the growing numbers of protest laws cropping up across the country are sold to the public as necessary to protect private property, public roads or national security, they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a thinly disguised plot to discourage anyone from challenging government authority at the expense of our First Amendment rights. However, despite the justification given to the public that the increasing amount of protest legislation being enacted nationwide is essential for safeguarding private property, public infrastructure, or national safety, it is actually a deceptive strategy aimed at deterring individuals from questioning governmental power, thereby infringing upon our rights granted by the First Amendment.

It doesn’t matter what the source of that discontent might be (police brutality, election outcomes, COVID-19 mandates, the environment, etc.): protest laws, free speech zones, no-go zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws, etc., aim to muzzle every last one of us.|Regardless of the underlying cause of dissatisfaction (be it police brutality, election results, COVID-19 restrictions, environmental concerns, etc.), various measures such as protest laws, designated free speech areas, no-go zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying laws, zero tolerance policies, hate crime legislation, etc., seek to suppress the voices of individuals across the board.

To be very clear, these legislative attempts to redefine and criminalize speech are a backdoor attempt to rewrite the Constitution and render the First Amendment’s robust safeguards null and void. To clarify, these efforts by lawmakers to redefine and make speech illegal are an indirect strategy to alter the Constitution and eliminate the strong protections provided by the First Amendment.

No matter how you package these laws, no matter how well-meaning they may sound, no matter how much you may disagree with the protesters or sympathize with the objects of the protest, these proposed laws are aimed at one thing only: discouraging dissent. Regardless of how these regulations are presented or how well-intentioned they may appear, their ultimate goal is to suppress dissent, regardless of whether you disagree with the protesters or empathize with the target of their demonstrations.

This is the painful lesson being imparted with every incident in which someone gets arrested and charged with any of the growing number of contempt charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that get trotted out anytime a citizen voices discontent with the government or challenges or even questions the authority of the powers-that-be.|Citizens are learning a difficult lesson through each occurrence where an individual is arrested and accused of various contempt charges, such as resisting arrest, interference, disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to comply with police orders. These charges are brought forth whenever a person expresses dissatisfaction with the government, challenges, or questions the authority of those in power.

These assaults on free speech are nothing new. |Attacks on freedom of speech have been a recurring issue

As Human Rights Watch points out, “Various states have long-tried to curtail the right to protest. They do so by legislating wide definitions of what constitutes an ‘unlawful assembly’ or a ‘riot’ as well as increasing punishments. They also allow police to use catch-all public offenses, such as trespassing, obstructing traffic, or disrupting the peace, as a pretext for ordering dispersals, using force, and making arrests. Finally, they make it easier for corporations and others to bring lawsuits against protest organizers.”|Human Rights Watch highlights that many states have been attempting to restrict the right to protest by expanding definitions of “unlawful assembly” and “riot,” imposing harsher penalties, enabling police to use various public offenses to disperse protests forcefully and make arrests, and facilitating legal actions against protest organizers by corporations and other entities.

Journalists have come under particular fire for exercising their right to freedom of the press. The media has faced significant criticism for doing its job and reporting news and information to the public.

According to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the criminalization of routine journalism has become a means by which the government chills lawful First Amendment activity. The government uses the criminalization of common journalism practices to intimidate and discourage lawful freedom of speech, as reported by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Journalists have been arrested or faced dubious charges for “publishing,” asking too many questions of public officials, being “rude” for reporting during a press conference, and being in the vicinity of public protests and demonstrations. Reporters have been detained or accused of wrongdoing for merely doing their jobs, including publishing news articles, posing tough questions to government officials, behaving in a supposedly disrespectful manner during press briefings, and even being present at public rallies and protests.

For instance, Steve Baker, a reporter for Blaze News, was charged with four misdemeanors, including trespassing and disorderly conduct charges, related to his sympathetic coverage of the Jan. 6 riots. Dan Heyman, a reporter for the Public News Service, was arrested for “aggressively” questioning Tom Price, then secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services during an encounter in the West Virginia State Capitol. Steve Baker, a journalist for Blaze News, was accused of four minor crimes, including trespassing and disorderly conduct, due to his supportive reporting on the Jan. 6 protests. Similarly, Dan Heyman, a reporter for the Public News Service, was taken into custody for persistently questioning Tom Price, who was then the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, during a confrontation at the West Virginia State Capitol.

It’s gotten so bad that merely daring to question, challenge or hesitate when a cop issues an order can get you charged with resisting arrest or disorderly conduct. Questioning, challenging, or hesitating in response to a police officer’s order can result in being accused of resisting arrest or disorderly conduct, a situation that has become increasingly common and severe.

For example, Deyshia Hargrave, a language arts teacher in Louisiana, was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and arrested for speaking out during a public comment period at a school board meeting. During a public comment session at a school board meeting, Deyshia Hargrave, a language arts teacher in Louisiana, was forcibly restrained, taken down to the ground, and placed in handcuffs before being arrested for expressing her opinions.

Fane Lozman was arrested for alluding to government corruption during open comment time at a City Council meeting in Palm Beach County, Fla.|Fane Lozman was taken into custody for hinting at corrupt practices within the government during a public comment session at a City Council meeting in Palm Beach County, Florida.

College professor Ersula Ore was slammed to the ground and arrested after she objected to the “disrespectful manner” shown by a campus cop who stopped her in the middle of the street and demanded that she show her ID |Educator Ersula Ore was forcefully taken to the ground and placed under arrest following her objection to the disrespectful behavior displayed by a campus law enforcement officer who halted her in the street and requested her identification.

Philadelphia lawyer Rebecca Musarra was arrested for exercising her right to remain silent and refusing to answer questions posed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. (Note: she cooperated in every other way by providing license and registration, etc.)|Attorney Rebecca Musarra of Philadelphia was taken into custody for declining to respond to a law enforcement officer’s inquiries during a routine traffic stop, despite complying with all other requests by providing the necessary documents.

Making matters worse, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Nieves v. Bartlett that protects police from lawsuits by persons arrested on bogus “contempt of cop” charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that result from lawful First Amendment activities (filming police, asking a question of police, refusing to speak with police).|The situation was further complicated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Nieves v. Bartlett, which shields police officers from legal action brought by individuals arrested on dubious charges of disrespecting the authority of law enforcement personnel. These charges can include resisting arrest, interfering with police duties, disorderly conduct, obstructing justice, and failure to comply with police instructions. Notably, these charges may arise from citizens’ lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as recording police activities, inquiring about police actions, or declining to engage in conversation with law enforcement officers.

These incidents reflect a growing awareness about the state of free speech in America: you may have distinct, protected rights on paper, but dare to exercise those rights, and you risk fines, arrests, injuries and even death.|These events demonstrate an increasing recognition of the status of freedom of speech in America: while you may have specific rights that are safeguarded in theory, if you choose to exercise those rights, you face the possibility of being fined, arrested, harmed, or even killed.

Unfortunately, we have been circling this particular drain hole for some time now. Regrettably, we have been stuck in a cycle of revisiting the same issue without making progress for a while now.

More than 50 years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas took issue with the idea that merely speaking to a government representative (a right enshrined in the First Amendment) could be perceived as unlawfully inconveniencing and annoying the police. Over five decades ago, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas disagreed with the notion that simply expressing one’s thoughts to a government official, a right safeguarded by the First Amendment, could be interpreted as an unlawful inconvenience or annoyance to law enforcement.

In a passionate defense of free speech, Douglas declared: |Douglas passionately defends free speech.

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet. The situation might have indicated that Colten’s techniques were ill-suited to the mission he was on, that diplomacy would have been more effective. But at the constitutional level speech need not be a sedative; it can be disruptive. Americans have historically been expected to show deference to authority and speak with respect to their representatives. However, the Constitution posits that the people are the ultimate authority, and government officials are merely their agents. As such, citizens have the right to express themselves freely, whether softly or forcefully, and to challenge or annoy as they see fit. While Colten’s methods may have been unsuitable for his mission, the Constitution ensures that speech can be disruptive and need not be limited to diplomatic language.

It’s a power-packed paragraph full of important truths that the powers-that-be would prefer we quickly forget: We the people are the sovereigns. We have the final word. We can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy. We need not stay docile and quiet. Our speech can be disruptive. It can invite dispute. It can be provocative and challenging. We do not have to bow submissively to authority or speak with reverence to government officials. This paragraph is filled with significant truths that those in authority would rather we overlook: We, the citizens, hold the ultimate power. We have the ability to express ourselves in various ways, whether calmly or with passion. We are not required to remain passive and silent. Our words can be disruptive and contentious, sparking debate and challenging norms. We are not obligated to unquestioningly submit to authority or show deference to government figures.

In theory, Douglas was right: “we the people” do have a constitutional right to talk back to the government. |In principle, Douglas’s statement holds water: citizens have a constitutional liberty to express their opinions and engage in dialogue with the government.

In practice, however, we live in an age in which “we the people” are at the mercy of militarized, weaponized, immunized cops who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect.” In reality, we exist in a time where the population is vulnerable to the whims of highly militarized, weaponized, and immunized law enforcement officers who possess considerable authority to determine who poses a threat, what qualifies as resistance, and how severely they can treat the very citizens they are supposed to serve and safeguard.

As such, those who seek to exercise their First Amendment rights during encounters with the police are increasingly finding that there is no such thing as freedom of speech.|Individuals who wish to express their opinions and exercise their First Amendment rights during interactions with law enforcement are often discovering that their freedom of speech is severely limited.

Case in point: Tony Rupp, a lawyer in Buffalo, NY, found himself arrested and charged with violating the city’s noise ordinance after cursing at an SUV bearing down on pedestrians on a busy street at night with its lights off. Because that unmarked car was driven by a police officer, that’s all it took for Rupp to find himself subjected to malicious prosecution, First Amendment retaliation and wrongful arrest.|For example, Tony Rupp, an attorney in Buffalo, New York, was arrested and accused of breaking the city’s noise rules when he yelled at an SUV endangering pedestrians on a crowded street at night without its lights on. Rupp ended up facing unfair legal action, retaliation against his freedom of speech, and an unjust arrest simply because the SUV was being driven by a police officer.

The case, as Jesse McKinley writes in The New York Times, is part of a growing debate over “how citizens can criticize public officials at a time of widespread reevaluation of the lengths and limits of free speech. That debate has raged everywhere from online forums and college campuses to protests over racial bias in law enforcement and the Israel-Hamas war. Book bans and other acts of government censorship have troubled some First Amendment experts. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a pair of laws — in Florida and Texas — limiting the ability of social media companies such as Facebook to ban certain content from their platforms.” As reported by Jesse McKinley in The New York Times, the case is contributing to a mounting discussion on the extent to which citizens can freely express their opinions about public figures, particularly in light of recent controversies surrounding racial bias in law enforcement and the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The debate has been taking place across various platforms, including online forums, college campuses, and protests. Some experts on the First Amendment are concerned about the implications of government censorship, including book bans, and the Supreme Court has recently heard arguments regarding laws in Florida and Texas that aim to restrict the ability of social media companies like Facebook to regulate content on their platforms.

Bottom line: what the architects of the police state want are submissive, compliant, cooperative, obedient, meek citizens who don’t talk back, don’t challenge government authority, don’t speak out against government misconduct, and don’t resist. In summary, the goal of those in charge of creating a police state is to have citizens who are passive, obedient, and do not question or resist government control or wrongdoing.

What the First Amendment protects—and a healthy constitutional republic requires—are citizens who routinely exercise their right to speak truth to power. A key element that the First Amendment safeguards, and that is essential for a strong constitutional republic, is the freedom of citizens to regularly challenge those in authority by speaking the truth.

Yet there can be no free speech for the citizenry when the government speaks in a language of force. When the government communicates through coercion, citizens cannot enjoy the freedom of expression.

What is this language of force?|What is the language of power being used here?

Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality. Contempt of cop charges. Heavily armed law enforcement officers, clad in dark uniforms and equipped with advanced military-grade gear, are deployed to quell civil unrest. They utilize aggressive methods, such as mass arrests, chemical irritants, and powerful projectiles, to subdue and disperse crowds. Tactics employed include invasive searches, constant surveillance, and the use of drones to monitor and intimidate. Some journalists are taken into custody, and crowd control measures are often carried out with excessive force, resulting in injuries and allegations of police brutality. Charges of disrespecting law enforcement officers are common, contributing to a climate of fear and hostility.

This is not the language of freedom. This is not even the language of law and order. These words do not convey the spirit of liberty. Nor do they reflect the tongue of justice and discipline.

Unfortunately, this is how the government at all levels—federal, state and local—now responds to those who choose to exercise their First Amendment right to speak freely. Regrettably, this is the current approach of government at every level—national, state, and local—toward individuals who decide to exercise their freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to protest unjust laws by voicing our opinions in public or on our clothing or before a legislative body, then we do not have free speech.|If our ability to express our thoughts and opinions freely is restricted, then we cannot truly say that we have free speech. This includes the right to convey our views to government officials, such as Census Workers or police officers, and to have them respect our property and privacy. It also means being able to peacefully assemble and demonstrate our dissent, whether it be in front of the Supreme Court or through personal expressions like protest signs or clothing. Additionally, the ability to voice our grievances and advocate for change before legislative bodies is a fundamental aspect of free speech. If these rights are curtailed, then our ability to participate in democratic processes and hold our leaders accountable is severely limited.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled, censored speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame. In place of unrestricted expression, we have a system of governed, moderated, and curated communication, which presents a unique set of challenges.

Remember, the unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment is the right to challenge government agents, think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal. The First Amendment protects the liberty to express dissenting opinions and engage in open discussions without fear of retribution or persecution, allowing individuals to hold government officials accountable for their actions.

Americans are being brainwashed into believing that anyone who wears a government uniform—soldier, police officer, prison guard—must be obeyed without question.|Many Americans are being manipulated to think that they must unquestionably obey individuals in government uniforms such as soldiers, police officers, or prison guards.

Of course, the Constitution takes a far different position, but does anyone in the government even read, let alone abide by, the Constitution anymore?|The Constitution presents a stark contrast to the current state of affairs, but it’s unclear whether those in power even bother to acquaint themselves with its tenets, let alone adhere to them.

The government does not want us to remember that we have rights, let alone attempting to exercise those rights peaceably and lawfully. And it definitely does not want us to engage in First Amendment activities that challenge the government’s power, reveal the government’s corruption, expose the government’s lies, and encourage the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices. The authorities seem to be averse to the idea of citizens being aware of their constitutional rights, let alone attempting to exercise them in a peaceful and lawful manner. Moreover, they appear to be particularly opposed to any First Amendment activities that might challenge their authority, reveal corruption, expose deceit, or motivate citizens to stand up against the various injustices perpetrated by the government.

Yet by muzzling the citizenry, by removing the constitutional steam valves that allow people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world, the government is creating a climate in which violence becomes inevitable. By suppressing the voices of its citizens, the government is inadvertently fostering an environment in which violence is likely to flourish. When people are denied the opportunity to express their opinions, address their concerns, and engage in open discourse, they may feel compelled to resort to violent means to make their voices heard and push for change.

When there is no First Amendment steam valve, then frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation. Without a means to express and address grievances, tensions escalate, animosity intensifies, and individuals become increasingly agitated and determined to bring attention to their concerns, often resorting to extreme measures to spark a dialogue.

As John F. Kennedy warned, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”|If peaceful revolution is prevented, violent revolution becomes unavoidable, as John F. Kennedy cautioned.

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