Standing up for your right to protest can be challenging, especially when demonstrations are met with violence. But knowing your rights is the most powerful weapon you have against police abuse.
Read on to learn what you need to know before heading out to exercise your constitutionally protected right to protest.
#1 The First Amendment prohibits restrictions based on the content of speech. However, this does not mean that the Constitution completely protects all types of free speech activity in every circumstance. Police and government officials are allowed to place certain nondiscriminatory and narrowly drawn “time, place and manner” restrictions on the exercise of First Amendment rights. Any such restrictions must apply to all speech regardless of its point of view.
#2 Generally, all types of expression are constitutionally protected in traditional “public forums” such as streets, sidewalks and parks. In addition, your speech activity may be permitted to take place at other public locations that the government has opened up to similar speech activities, such as the plazas in front of government buildings.picketing must be done in an orderly, non-disruptive fashion so that pedestrians can pass by and entrances to buildings are not blocked.
#3 Certain types of events require permits. Generally, these events are:
- A march or parade that does not stay on the sidewalk, and other events that require blocking traffic or street closure
- A large rally requiring the use of sound amplifying devices; or a rally at certain designated parks or plazas Many permit procedures require that the application be filed several weeks in advance of the event. However, the First Amendment prohibits such an advance notice requirement from being used to prevent rallies or demonstrations that are rapid responses to unforeseeable and recent events. Also, many permit ordinances give a lot of discretion to the police or city officials to impose conditions on the event, such as the route of a march or the sound levels of amplification equipment. Such restrictions may violate the First Amendment if they are unnecessary for traffic control or public safety, or if they interfere significantly with effective communication with the intended audience. A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views.
Police are permitted to keep two antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within the general vicinity of one another.