Elimination of due process?
No, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) pretty much took care of that.
So ten years ago.
Destruction of the rights to protest and free assembly?
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 347, or the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, which protects government officials from that pesky thing called dissent.
The unconstitutional, and dangerous, aspects of H.R. 347 are being masked behind a part of the act clarifying that it is illegal to trespass on the White House grounds. Yet the language of the bill goes further: H.R. 347 makes it illegal for any individual to “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” if that action is against any person who is under Secret Service protection or any event that is classified as a National Special Security Event (NSSE).
Within that legalese comes a nice new law: anyone who disrupts the government from conducting business can be arrested and imprisoned for up to ten years.
Yes, we’re still talking about America.
Potentially, with this law, if a group of Americans organized a demonstration that sought to disrupt a politician’s “official function” and that politician was Mitt Romney, that demonstration could be illegal as Romney is protected by Secret Service.
President Obama, Rick Santorum, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, foreign ambassadors and dictators (who normally receive Secret Service protection in the US), and many other notable figures are now safe from the greatest threat against them: protest.
“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights.” Amash was one of the three representatives who voted against the bill; the only other two were Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Paul Broun (R-GA).
The law extends beyond insulating individuals from protest to blocking protests of large, important, and sometimes politically controversial events. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can classify an event as an NSSE, if “by virtue of its profile and/or status represents an attractive target for terrorist attack.” The same rules of limited protest apply at and in the vicinity of NSSEs.
The upcoming G8 and NATO summits this spring in Chicago are considered NSSEs. Other past NSSEs include the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, International Monetary Fund (IMF) gatherings, and events such as the Superbowl and Olympics.
Yet as frightening as H.R. 347 sounds, it’s important that we be clear: it is merely an incremental addition to laws already on the books. Freedom of speech has been under attack for a long time in America, and this is only the latest battleground.
As the passage of the NDAA in December showed Americans earlier, our divided Congress may be unable to make headway on most issues, but it can at least agree that the one thing that needs to be stopped in America is dissent.