Here is the complete text of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution (emphasis mine):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So, how then will our congress critters explain H.R. 347, the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011” bill? To be fair, this is not a new law. It amends 18 USC § 1752 “restricted buildings and grounds,” that has existed in various forms since 1971. The most significant amendments to the law occurred in 2006.1
But there are a few changes that make one’s eyebrow raise.
The existing law required that for a person to be prosecuted under it, they would have had to carry out those described acts both “willfully” and “knowingly.” The requirement of “willfulness” generally means that a conviction requires proof that the person knew his conduct was unlawful. H.R. 347 strikes the “willfully” requirement. The new amendments appear to intend for a person to be convicted only by “knowingly” taking the actions described even if the person does not know that the actions are unlawful. As amended, a conviction arguably only requires proof that a person “knowingly entered” a certain area. This is an effort to lower the bar for prosecutors who would, arguably, no longer have to prove that a person knew his conduct was unlawful.1
Also, while H.R. 347, on its own, is only of incremental importance, it could be misused as part of a larger move by the Secret Service and others to suppress lawful protest by relegating it to particular locations at a public event. These “free speech zones” are frequently used to target certain viewpoints or to keep protesters away from the cameras. Although H.R. 347 doesn’t directly address free speech zones, it is part of the set of laws that make this conduct possible, and should be seen in this context.2
Listen, while I may not agree with everything the Occupy Wall Street crowd is saying, I 100% support their right to say it. We can not, and must not, silence the voice of anyone, no matter if we agree with their message or not. We the People have a right to peaceably assemble. To me, this smells like the ruling class wishes to keep the serfs away. Heaven forbid if we should see that the emperor has no clothes.