Proposed infrastructure laws jeopardize freedom to assemble - Parsons Sun: Opinion

Proposed infrastructure laws jeopardize freedom to assemble

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Posted: Friday, June 8, 2018 10:06 pm

Rightly or wrongly, certain First Amendment issues tend to dominate the national conversation more than others. Bring up President Trump’s tweets criticizing the news media, college campus protests of controversial speakers, or the possibility of the government regulating Facebook and you’re bound to inspire a rousing and possibly heated discussion. Mention that state laws protecting critical infrastructure might actually erode the right to assemble and you’re more likely get blank stares and a hasty topic change. After all, it’s an issue that combines the freedom of assembly, which barely anyone knows about, with state and local law, which barely anyone cares about. Throw in the word “infrastructure,” and it’s practically anti-clickbait.

Nevertheless, it’s an issue worth paying attention to. At the end of March, legislators in Louisiana and Minnesota proposed bills that would criminalize the activities of groups protesting the construction of oil pipelines (that would be the infrastructure we’re talking about). At least five other states have passed or are attempting to pass similar laws, seemingly inspired by the protests at Standing Rock, which delayed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of state legislators with libertarian principles, even wrote a model policy for states to use as a template. ALEC’s rationale? “Whether it’s vandalism or protesters turned violent, a few people can cause tremendous harm to their fellow citizens by damaging critical infrastructure sites. Stopping the flow of a pipeline can cause pressure to build and puts thousands at risk of harm from an explosion. While peaceful protests are an important part of Americans’ right to free speech, causing damage and putting others at risk of harm is not.”

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