President Obama signed bill H.R. 347 (also known as the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011) into law on March 9th, amid numerous protests from the Occupy movement, as well as other agencies. HR 347 is a modification from Senate bill S. 1794, which restricted people from entering or blocking public areas that have been closed off by Secret Service while a person under their protection is passing through. The law also included major public events, such as the Inaguration and Presidential campaigns.
The new law, which passed the House with a vote of 399-3, extends the original law by adding more protected areas within Washington D.C, and removing the word “willfully,” from the paragraph stating that protesters can be prosecuted if they enter the area “willfully and knowingly.”
Representative Justin Amash, R-Michigan, explains this change by saying:
” The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect its illegal.”
Occupy DC protesters are calling the modifications an infringement on their First Amendment rights, because of the areas of D.C. that have been added to the protected areas portion of the act. Approximately 80 protesters organized a silent march to symbolize their Freedom of Speech being taken away–some even taped their mouths closed to visually show their feelings about the bill. The part of the Bill of Rights they are referring to is the following:
“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.”
Michael Mahaffey, Representative Tom Rooney’s (R-Fla. and the man responsible for introducing the bill to the House) communication director dismissed concerns that the bill violates civil liberties by saying, that the protests against H.R. 347 are, “a whole lot of kerfuffle over nothing. This (HR 347) doesn’t affect anyone’s right to protest anywhere at any time. Ever. ” He went on to say that, “… right now it’s not a federal violation to jump the fence and run across the White House lawn, this bill makes it a federal violation.”
What do you think? Is H.R. 347 a violation of our right to protest in the D.C. area, or is it merely an update to the bill passed in 1974 to further protect people under the protection of the Secret Service?