Right to Protest

Right to Protest

Codified by the First Amendment and upheld over time as one of our most basic rights as Americans, the right to assemble, protest, and petition still continue to come under fire today.

Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests »

Our nation's founders declared their independence on July 4, 1776, to break free of the tyranny of a nation that denied them the civil liberties that they believed all people were granted as a birthright. They reaffirmed that faith in independence from governmental tyranny with the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. But Freedom cannot survive when those in power make exceptions to the First Amendment for speech they dislike or criticism they would rather not hear.

Additional Resources

Take Back the Streets: Repression and criminalization of protest around the world (2013 report): A report written by the organizations that comprise the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations, which includes the ACLU. The report highlights crackdown on peaceful protests in democracies around the world, through tactics that include excessive (sometimes deadly) police force and the criminalization of dissent. The report surveys cases from Argentina, Canada, Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Kenya, Hungary, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Know Your Rights: Photographers: Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.

Spy Files: Spying On First Amendment Activity (2010 resource): United States law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups. Unfortunately, it appears that these old tendencies have once again come to the fore. Law enforcement agencies across America continue to monitor and harass groups and individuals for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

An Ugly, But Legal, Form of Free Speech (2010 blog): The Dove World Outreach Center plans to commemorate the September 11 terrorist attacks by burning copies of the Quran in a presumably sincere, but woefully misguided, belief that America is at war with the Islamic faith. Burning books conjures up images of a time when Nazi brutality against a religious minority was state-sanctioned policy. But with the guarantee of religious freedom for all, the fundamental American right to protest — an essential element of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression — should also be honored. As the Constitution protects the right to burn an American flag as a political protest, for the Ku Klux Klan to rally at a state capitol, for neo-Nazis to march down an American street, then surely there is a right to burn a Quran or any other sacred symbol.

Free Speech Under Fire: The ACLU Challenge to "Protest Zones" (2003 resource): In many cities across the country, the Secret Service has discriminated against protesters during Presidential and Vice Presidential appearances. Such incidents have spiked under the Bush Administration, prompting the ACLU to charge government officials with a ""pattern and practice"" of discrimination against those who disagree with its policies. 

ACLU of Eastern Missouri Challenges Law Banning Pickets and Protests One Hour Before or After a Funeral (2006 press release): In June 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Shirley L. Phelps-Roper, a member of a controversial conservative Christian church, over a Missouri law that infringes on her rights to religious liberty and free speech.

Arresting Protest (2003 PDF)

ACLU Federal Lawsuit Gets Green Light From 11th Circuit (2009 press release)

ACLU Of Utah Sues Utah Department Of Transportation Over Unconstitutional Restrictions On Free Speech Events (2011 press release)

Most Popular:

DHS Concludes They Have Authority to Monitor Political Activities of Advocacy Groups (2011 blog)

ACLU Denounces FBI Tactics Targeting Political Protesters (2004 press release)

ACLU Applauds New D.C. Law Protecting Protest Rights (2005 press release)

ACLU of Kentucky Says Protest Ban at Funerals Restricts Free Speech (2006 press release)

ACLU Defends Six Men Arrested During Protest at President Bush Rally (2004 press release)

ACLU Challenges Defense Department Personnel Policy To Regard Lawful Protests As “Low-Level Terrorism” (2009 press release)

Police Trampled Civil Rights During 2003 Free Trade Protests in Florida, ACLU Charges (2005 press release)

Grandmother Will Mark President's Day By Petitioning Obama To Commute Her 27-Year Prison Sentence For Non-Violent Crime (2010 press release)

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