GOP convention rules limit speech
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 1, 2012 15:04
Rules for limiting protests at the site of the upcoming Republican National Convention in Tampa may actually harm free speech more than help. What a surprise.
The proposed rules announced last week by Tampa’s mayor will essentially kettle most demonstrators into a “public viewing area” near the site of the convention, the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Outside of that area, protests and marches will be limited to 60 minutes.
Why the time limit?
According to the Tampa Bay Times, “police have told city attorneys that officers in body armor shouldn’t work outside for more than an hour without a break.”
Tampa also wants to set up a secure “Clean Zone” that will ban items that could be used as weapons such as knives, brass knuckles and bags of bodily fluids. This rule actually makes a lot of sense. It is necessary for maintaining security at an event sure to draw thousands of people.
Still, a new federal law could also inhibit protesters from having their voices heard at the GOP convention in Tampa.
Little has been said of H.R. 347, dubbed the “anti-protest trespass” bill, since it was signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this month. The stated purpose of the bill, which quietly slipped through Congress with little coverage from the national press, is to make it a federal offense to trespass on restricted areas of the White House and the residence of the vice president, according to a statement posted on whitehouse.gov.
However, the actual language of the law will authorize law enforcement officials to arrest anyone who “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.” The law also defines “restricted buildings or grounds” as any place “where the president or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting.” Locations that are part of an event “designated as a special event of national significance” are considered restricted, too.
This automatically makes the convention in August a “restricted” area deemed off limits for protesters, who will, by nature, engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct.” Since Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich each have a Secret Service detail assigned for their protection, any campaign stop they visit is now effectively guarded against would-be protesters under federal law.
Considering the nature and importance of events like the Republican National Convention, lawmakers and other officials must plan properly to make sure all participants remain safe. But we also think they should be mindful not to abridge the rights of those who wish to publicly express their grievances and have them heard.