The Constitution, protests and public safety

The Constitution, protests and public safety

November 17th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

In the days before our beloved United States of America was born, British authorities sought to prevent the assembly of the people in the American colonies as they protested against the British Crown.

So after American independence finally was won during the Revolutionary War, the framers of our Constitution wisely guaranteed "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances ... ."

Of course, "peaceably" is a key word there. The right of assembly does not protect mobs or those who gather in violation of reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

That principle was reaffirmed on Tuesday when a judge ruled that the First Amendment does not provide unlimited protection to the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters who had taken over a privately owned park in Manhattan, pitching tents there and camping out for weeks on end -- and making it hard for others to enjoy the normal use of the park. Police cleared the camp of protesters and removed their tents and other equipment after the site, Zuccotti Park, became hazardous and unsanitary.

The demonstrators may return to the park or go to other parks to spread their anti-capitalist message, but they will not be permitted to set up a tent city again.

So their right "peaceably to assemble" and to state their views will be upheld.

But they will not be permitted to ignore sensible safety and sanitation regulations.

That is as it should be.