Tag Archives: right to peacefully assemble

Supreme Court thoughts on Peaceful Assembly and Free Speech outside clinics

The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting[…] the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. Peaceably being the key word there. The wording of the first amendment allows the government to step in if the protest becomes violent or dangerous, but where do we draw the line on where they should step in? This has been a big issue for awhile now with pro-life activists staging rather aggressive protests outside abortion clinics, and even a shooting rampage in Massachusetts in 1994. When young women are walking into a clinic, it isn’t fair for them to be screamed at by other women, telling that that they are going to hell, and a murderer. It is because of this that a few states have enacted laws creating a buffer zone around clinics where protesters must stay a certain distance from the clinic (typically around 50ft) and leave a bubble around any patients coming to or from the clinic in order to improve patients feeling of safety. However many feel that these limits infringe upon citizen’s first amendment right to peaceful assembly. There are many pro-life advocates who just want to have a quiet friendly chat with patients and show them that there are other options. The Supreme Court just struck down a law about this issue in 2014 when Massachusetts buffer zone law came into question. The Justices decided that limiting all speech in this way was a violation of the 1st amendment, and suggested that Massachusetts change the law to limit certain kinds of speech, ie harassment and threats, rather than banning all speech. This is ruling is interesting however, because only a few years before, the supreme court voted to uphold a similar law in Colorado. Clearly this is an issue that falls in the grey area of the law, and work still needs to be done in order to solidify the boundaries of peaceful assembly and free speech.


“The Bill Of Rights: A Transcription.” National Archives. N. p., 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2018.
“Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic “Buffer Zone”: In Plain English – Scotusblog.” SCOTUSblog. N. p., 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2018.


Where to Draw the Line on Peaceful Assemblies

“The First Amendment is not without limits” –Jerry Falwell. This view of the first amendment is an accurate one. Individuals seem to believe that the first amendment protects all speech, all assemblies, and every action where one voices their own opinion. Yet like most things in life, the first amendment has its limits. Limits are set in place not to take away all the rights, but to ensure that people feel safe while still being allowed to share their voice. This introduces the question of, is gathering and speaking your opinion outside public buildings protected by the peaceable assemblies clause of the First Amendment or does this to have its limits?

The limits on the first amendment have been a cause of debate for many years. At the University of Wisconsin Madison, students demanded that the chancellor condemn hate speech after a student tried to start a chapter of a white nationalist group on campus. Brea City in California tried to pass a proposal for permits on public assemblies. Under the proposal, the city would require permits for public assemblies of 30 people or more in Brea Downtown and 75 people or more in other parts of the city. This permit would need to be submitted at least four days in advance. In both of these cases, the communities felt the need to limit the first amendment to help enforce the safety of others. Brea City Mayor, Glenn Parker stated, “the proposal is based on ‘good intent’ to find a balance between the right to demonstrate and the right for businesses, shoppers, and residents to have peace and public safety. We all respect the right, but we also feel there needs to be a balance and respect for those people that maybe aren’t involved in the process.” Because assembly involves free expression, the first amendment guarantees that as long as people peaceably convent to picket or protest the state may not penalize. However, this protection does not immunize the gathering from general safety and welfare laws designed to protect private property, facilitate traffic or minimize congestion. The peaceable assemblies have its limits to add to the law and to protect individuals while still trying to protect your voice.

Some people may see these limits as taking away their rights given to them, but imagine trying to attend the dentist and a small gathering stands in your way telling you that the dentist is scary and needs to be banned. The fear of being hurt while trying to live your life is deafening. The limit of getting a permit or getting consent before approaching an individual ensures both parties can live their life, still be protected under the first amendment, and can speak their voice to be heard. Gathering and speaking your opinion outside public buildings is protected by the peaceable assemblies clause of the First Amendment, but it comes with limits.




Speech Codes: Are They a Scourge or a Savior to Free Speech?

Many people know the First Amendment: the right to expression, the right to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press, the right to petition the government, etcetera. However, not many people know where the boundaries of these rights lie. People push these boundaries all the time and right now college campuses are but one example. Administrators at colleges are attempting to enforce speech codes. Yet, does enforcing speech codes violate the right to free expression described in the First Amendment? How far can speech codes go before the contradict the rights to free expression and peaceful protesting described in the First Amendment?

There are many ways speech codes could be enforced. But depending on how they are applied, they could break the First Amendment. A few forms of expression, specifically in regards to free speech, that are not protected by the First Amendment are slander or libel, fighting words, and obscenity. This means that someone can not go in front of a crowd and defame, insult, threaten, or say anything that may be considered hate speech to someone without consequences. One example of hate speech can be seen in a video of Milo Yiannopoulous at UW Milwaukee. In this video, he verbally attacked and degraded a transgender student. They still were spoken with no point other than to make fun of a subject and way of life that Yiannopoulous did not agree with. Another example of hate speech and fighting words is threats. As stated by Ben Shapiro, some people “greeted the birth of [his] second child by calling for [him, his] wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber”. There was no purpose to this statement other than to express a disagreement with his religion. Under the First Amendment, hate speech is not something you can say without consequences. Speech Codes cannot be used to prevent speakers with controversial opinions from speaking. They cannot prevent people from peacefully disagreeing and debating about topics. However, speech codes can apply consequences if that speech becomes hateful or slanderous since that speech would no longer be protected under the First Amendment.

Some Speech Codes are also attempting to limit the student’s right to peacefully protest a speaker. The First Amendment specifically says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. To restrict the right to peacefully assemble is a direct violation of the First Amendment. Yet, as seen on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website, also known as FIRE, some college campuses are restricting the student’s rights to peacefully assemble and protest on the grounds that they are disrupting the speaker’s right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act states that “protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction”. There must be a line drawn as to what qualifies as disruptive and interfering demonstrations. The line is whether or not there is any form of violence or hate speech. If a protester simply said the speaker was wrong, held signs, and argued about right versus wrong, nothing can be done about it because they are protesting peacefully, as the First Amendment says they can. However, if a protestor started doing damage or cursing out the speaker, then they would have to face consequences. Recently at UC Berkeley, protesters became very violent at a speech by Yiannopoulous and had to be escorted off the premises. UC Berkeley encompasses what a protest that is not protected by the First Amendment is, and what Speech Codes can restrict.

In the end, Speech codes can be useful to make speeches more peaceful and clearly define punishments for breaking that peace, however, they must still subject to the First Amendment.


EBSCO: The New Battle Over Campus Free Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos verbally attacks a transgender student (1:30-3:05)

The Atlantic: The Glaring Evidence That Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus

Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act

A few examples of Hate Speech against Ben Shapiro

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

UC Berkeley