March 8, 2012
New “trespass bill” makes it a federal offense to protest government business or functions, or against people or places under Secret Service protection.
The U.S. congress is pushing a bill into law under the innocent pretense of making protests at the White House illegal.
The new legislation just passed by the house H.R. 347, informally known as the “Trespass Bill”, goes far beyond the White House and will outlaw peaceful protests in an almost endless possible combinations of situations.
The bill begins by making it illegal to enter or remain in any restricted building or grounds, which are defined as any location where the Secret Service or any person under protection of the secret service is located or at any place designated as a special event of national significance.
Hence, the it will be illegal to protest at not only the White House but at any location where the The President, Former President’s, their families, Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates, Foreign Heads of States, U.S. Officials performing certain tasks, or any one else under protection of the secret service is located.
That would means it would be illegal for protestors to hold a rally outside an Obama speech or even at an event hosted by Rick Sanatorium or Mitt Romney. It doesn’t stop there either.
The bill goes on to make it a federal offense “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”
Then to make the bill all inconclusive it is also a crime when anyone “obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds”
Here’s an article detailing just how far this bill goes into killing the First Amendment Free Speech and Assembly rights, followed by the full text of the bill.
Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal
Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further: The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.
The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.
Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.
Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.
The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”
It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.
Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidentally disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.
Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.
In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.
Outside of the current presidential race, the Secret Service is responsible for guarding an array of politicians, even those from outside America. George W Bush is granted protection until ten years after his administration ended, or 2019, and every living president before him is eligible for life-time, federally funded coverage. Visiting heads of state are extended an offer too, and the events sanctioned as those of national significance — a decision that is left up to the US Department of Homeland Security — extends to more than the obvious. While presidential inaugurations and meeting of foreign dignitaries are awarded the title, nearly three dozen events in all have been considered a National Special Security Event (NSSE) since the term was created under President Clinton. Among past events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list are Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring.
When thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Chicago this spring for the 2012 G8 and NATO summits, they will also be approaching the grounds of a National Special Security Event. That means disruptive activity, to whichever court has to consider it, will be a federal offense under the act.
And don’t forget if you intend on fighting such charges, you might not be able to rely on evidence of your own. In the state of Illinois, videotaping the police, under current law, brings criminals charges. Don’t fret. It’s not like the country will really try to enforce it — right?
On the bright side, does this mean that the law could apply to law enforcement officers reprimanded for using excessive force on protesters at political events? Probably. Of course, some fear that the act is being created just to keep those demonstrations from ever occuring, and given the vague language on par with the loose definition of a “terrorist” under the NDAA, if passed this act is expected to do a lot more harm to the First Amendment than good.
United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal.”
“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.
Now that the act has overwhelmingly made it through the House, the next set of hands to sift through its pages could very well be President Barack Obama; the US Senate had already passed the bill back on February 6. Less than two months ago, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, essentially suspending habeas corpus from American citizens. Could the next order out of the Executive Branch be revoking some of the Bill of Rights? Only if you consider the part about being able to assemble a staple of the First Amendment, really. Don’t worry, though. Obama was, after all, a constitutional law professor. When he signed the NDAA on December 31, he accompanied his signature with a signing statement that let Americans know that, just because he authorized the indefinite detention of Americans didn’t mean he thought it was right.
Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.
Here is the full text of H. R. 347, which was just passed by in the house by a vote of 388-to-3.
112th CONGRESS 1st Session H. R. 347
AN ACTTo correct and simplify the drafting of section 1752 (relating to restricted buildings or grounds) of title 18, United States Code. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011′.
SEC. 2. RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 1752. Restricted building or grounds
(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;
(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or
(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds;
or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is–
(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if–
(A) any person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or
(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and
(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.
(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 when such person has not declined such protection.’.
Passed the House of Representatives February 28, 2011.
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