Don’t Head to a Protest without Reviewing Your Rights

( – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has published guidelines on the right to protest in the United States, including details on the legal position related to various types of political demonstrations. The document reminds readers that protest is a protected right under the First Amendment to the US Constitution but states that “government officials are allowed to place certain narrow restrictions on the exercise of speech rights.”

Nevertheless, it advises that people have the right to speak in what are known as “traditional public forums,” including streets and parks. The government cannot, it states, interfere with any speech if it takes place on private property, but police can move people if they do not have a permit or are blocking public access to a public space. Permits are only required when a march or parade disrupts traffic or involves road closures.

Notably, the guidance states that police must “treat protesters and counterprotesters equally” and cannot prevent a demonstration because it might prove controversial or permit the expression of “unpopular views.”

The reminder of Constitutional protection comes at a time when many Americans believe their rights are under threat, a belief that is not new but is growing. Back in 2019, a poll revealed that 92% of American citizens thought their rights had been eroded, and in 2021, a Harvard survey showed that similar percentages want to see a strengthening of fundamental rights in the US. One area of concern was social media and “disinformation,” with 91% agreeing that “disinformation is a threat to our democracy” – this included 94% of Democrats, 90% of Independents, and 88% of Republicans.

The right to peaceful protest is one of the rights protected by the First Amendment, which also guards freedom of religion, speech, and the freedom of the press. It likewise protects the right to petition the government. In NAACP v Alabama in 1958, the Supreme Court included the right to free association.

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