In Lincoln’s Gettysburg address he stated, “…our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
In my last article, I wrote about towers of foresight and the importance of considering long-term implications of our political decisions. History has shown how attempts to silence the minority only re-direct their modes of expression. From civil rights to women’s rights, and as far back as the American Revolution, simply hearing the act of public protest has played key roles in extending our nation’s liberties.
I fear the loss of our liberties will be greeted by a standing ovation. The applause will come from advocates who reason that laws are to be leveled against individuals of differing ideology. Cue HF322.
House File 322 (HF322)
The bill states that public entities and municipalities can sue “…for costs incurred for the purpose of responding to the unlawful assembly or public nuisance.” In other words, individuals who are arrested for participating in, or being present at, an unlawful assembly or being a public nuisance would be civilly liable for public safety response costs.
Bad for 1st Amendment
This bill doesn’t add new restrictions, but discourages peaceful protest. Will the city think you’re illegally assembling? How will they interpret your actions?
To be clear, blocking traffic is still just as illegal as it was before the bill was introduced. HF322 changes nothing there. If someone obstructs traffic, particularly emergency vehicles, they will be arrested and charged, serve time, pay the related fees and fines, and can still be sued for damages by private entities. This will not change. I’m a firm believer in proportional laws where punishment fits the crime.
If HF322 becomes law, it will compound additional civil lawsuits from municipalities, which creates an imbalance by double-punishing. There is no clear statement about who pays the fines, which further undermines the 1st Amendment. Would all the fines be charged to the leader of a peaceful assembly?
Bad for 2nd Amendment
Although it has been proposed by 27 Republicans in the House and three Republicans in the Senate, I fear they fail to recognize how this bill may work against them and their constituents in the future. Sponsor Representative Nick Zerwas (R) states, “If you violate the law, if you block traffic, if you block access to a building, that’s what this bill is for.” Yet, nowhere in the bill does it specify these circumstances, meaning it can apply broadly and may be interpreted differently as power in government shifts. Representative Zerwas makes it even sound reasonable until you read the bill and its corresponding articles, and apply it to what you are passionate about.
It may not be today, but imagine four or eight years from now. What if the Supreme Court states the 2nd Amendment refers to States’ rights, not individuals’ rights, and you no longer may legally possess certain guns unless you are an active member of the state’s organized militia?
If you would protest for your 2nd Amendment rights at the state capital, please read Minnesota statute 609.705 on unlawful assembly. Would it apply? You betcha. If passed, HF322 will apply just as permanently to gun owners as it does to Black Lives Matter activists.
Bad for Liberty
The bill is worded vaguely which allows the party in power, whose actions are stimulating public protests, to interpret when and how it is to be enforced. These minutiae become essential when deciding when and upon whom to enforce laws.
By discouraging peaceful assembly, we leave open the opportunity for government to curb all other amendments, bit by bit.
We can disagree with others. The 1st Amendment, though not always convenient, is a critical part of our democracy. Let not the words “For liberty and justice for all” become “For liberty and justice for some.” This bill is bad for Liberty.
I encourage folks to read HF322 and contact Rep. Greg Davids and Sen. Jeremy Miller (Senate version SF679) to ask where they stand on this bill.
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