By Olivia Azevedo
In an act of rare conformity, Republicans and Democrats finally agreed on something fundamental. Unfortunately, they came together in a deal that will leave Americans worse off. By a vote of 388 to 3 (who were these 3 little bastions of decency?), the U.S. Congress passed a bill known as H.R. 347 in which they actually killed the First Amendment to the United States Constitution without pomp and circumstance.
Amendment I is part of the Bill of Rights and it basically protects one’s freedom to exercise religion, freedom of speech and the press, and the right to peaceably rally, and to petition the government for the chance to rectify a situation of injustice.
“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.”
H.R. 347, also known as the Federal Restriction Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, was signed into law by President Obama on Thursday the 8th of March. The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without authorization or anyone meaning to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene.
However, if initially the bill was sold in a very different light – to protect the White House against distracted ‘tourists’, for instance – the phrasing leaves a lot of room for maneuver and it could mean the end of the right of people to peaceably assemble and express freely.
In effect, under the new H.R. 347, any building or grounds (even temporary or makeshift ones) where the president is visiting (or any other person protected by the Secret Service) is considered sheltered by the law. Also any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance” will render a federal offense to any demonstrators or activists from North to South, from West to East.
HR. 347 Explained (this video was created prior to the signing)
In short, with this repressive and despotic bill it is perfectly legal to carry out the detention, apprehension and arrest of any citizen protesting in the vicinity of a Secret Service protected official.
2012 is proving to be a tough year for civil liberties.