It is common in our day and age for representatives of many organizations to publicly demonstrate their cause, whether they are the local PETA Animal Rights Group, or a Fundamentalist Religious Organization. However, there have been some cases recently where philosophically motivated organizations have contributed to disorderly and unsafe conduct.An excellent example is Westboro Baptist church, whose propagation of an attitude of judgmental and unsafe targeting of people they disagree with is not right.
The defining line between the rights of Free Speech delineated in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Unlawful Assembly are sometimes unclear, depending on the political biases of who you ask. A Planned Parenthood representative would no doubt consider it unlawful assembly for a pro-life group to picket their building. Fundamentalist groups find it unacceptable for atheists to disrupt their young-earth creationist museum.
How do we deal with this divide? Our founders guaranteed that all groups, no matter what their philosophy, should have the right to “peacefully assemble and petition the government for grievances.”
The key words in the First Amendment are peacefully and government. Groups that are not acting peacefully do not have the constitutional guarantee of protection for their rallies. As an example, it seems that many political rallies are chaotic and noisy events, which might give legal scholars the right to consider that they are not granted the right to assemble by our constitution. The same goes for Unions picketing on company property. If they are not acting peacefully, they have lost the rights guaranteed to protestors under the constitution. Popular opinion tends to grant excessive leniency to philosophical groups that the general public finds likable, but this goes against the 1st Amendment’s requirement that protested organizations be governmental in nature.
It is human nature to want to regulate the speech of any groups that we disagree with or personally dislike. This phenomenon explains why blacks are imprisoned longer for committing the same crimes as whites. Successful individuals often use their position of influence and authority in their culture to define what is and what is not acceptable conduct. This often causes conflict to individuals who disagree with our notions of right and wrong. It is important that in our organizations, we provide protection for all groups who are acting peacefully.
In a major city like Los Angeles it is important that we define what is unlawful assembly:
1. Violently and loudly yelling slogans at those we disagree with.
2. Disrupting the property and safety of people or organizations.
3. Specifically targeting a private organization for protesting. Government funded organizations can be targeted according to the 1st Amendment, but non governmental organizations cannot be.
Sadly, we have seen cases as recently as 2013 where people in positions of authority in the US government used their control over the IRS to target groups they disagree with. This most stop. As tempting as it is to use positions of power to eliminate those we disagree with, this sets a precedent for continued progress toward Soviet style controls on free speech.
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