Freedom of Speech No Longer Free – Thanks to H.R. 347
April 16, 2012
This bill was signed in secret, back in March of this year, by a President who wanted to keep it secret. This bill was passed by a bipartisan majority of politicians who want to limit free speech around THEIR Presidents and THEIR Presidential candidates, the Constitution be damned. I only learned of it today because there is a sudden scandal around the Secret Service that has served to bring this bill to light.
This law permits the Secret Service to declare any location a “No Free Speech” zone, adjacent to where any person they are protecting is or may be, making it a Federal Felony to violate this “No Free Speech” zone. This law is designed, in effect, to create a legal “no-protest” area around the President (or around any candidate, foreign head of state, or anyone else being given Secret Service protection). Anyone who violates this no-protest/no-free-speech zone is, by definition, committing a felony – a federal felony – and they can (and will) be arrested, and are liable to prosecution, with a penalty exceeding one year in Federal prison.
There are reports that this bill was passed in order to put a lid on Occupy Washington, which had gotten really obnoxious around the White House and on Capitol Hill. That may have provided an impetus to this (I was in DC in January, and saw Occupy there – they made a “Hooverville” look glamorous, but I didn’t perceive any threats to the President stemming from a bunch of obnoxious, unwashed latter-day hippies (or, politically, Yippies). I really, honestly think that the reason this bill was written in secret, passed in secret and signed in secret is much more sinister, and much more obvious.
As someone who’s managed “media” and “strategy” for three different (at the state level) Presidential campaigns, I know why this bill was passed (secretly) by wide margins in both houses, and why it was signed (secretly) by the President last month. It means that the President (or any candidate for President who is getting Secret Service protection) can basically outlaw any protests within camera range of the President (or candidate). All they have to do is ask the Secret Service to create a “No Free Speech” zone around them, one large enough to keep protestors out of the same camera shot that includes the President or candidate. It is absolutely GREAT for Presidential (or candidate) PR … of course, it destroys several First Amendment rights (and I hope the Supreme Court will take a swift look at this and rule it blatantly unconstitutional), but it is great for PR.
And it’s all done in the name of “protecting the President” … and who isn’t in favor of that? Of course, we haven’t seen a President threatened by a protestor since Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975, and quite honestly, she wasn’t really a “protestor” (she was a member of the Manson Family), but she masqueraded as one in order to get into the crowd around the President.
In short, there is no real security need for this law – protestors are not, per se, high risks for Presidents or candidates. But they make for bad TV, they disrupt Presidential appearances, campaign appearances and of course, national party conventions, so you can understand why politicians from both parties rushed to support this gross violation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It helps them look better to the TV cameras and the voters, and of course, that’s much more important than the Constitution.
Here is Eric Boling and Judge Andrew Napolitano discussing this bill on Fox, presumably on a weekend when few would see it: http://www.youtube.com/embed/7SGWH3kirzg?rel=0 … it’s about three minutes long, and will give you a good civil libertarian view of the bill, and how it strips away three of our basic First Amendment rights: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, and the Right to Petition the Government for the Redress of Grievances.
For those who don’t have your Constitution handy, the First Amendment reads as follows: “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.”
Here are some links to the bill itself, and to some of the limited press coverage given this bill, and to some outcries against this bill. By all means, don’t take my word for it – check this out for yourself.