Thanks to Bill Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive 62 in 1998, U.S. presidents were granted the authority to classify any event they choose as a "National Special Security Event" (NSSE) - meaning Secret Service protection is required, thereby making the event a restricted one. NSSE classification has vastly expanded to include a wide range of public events such as Superbowl games, presidential conventions, WTO and G-8 summits, the Academy Awards, and so on.
Under HR 347, what this means essentially is that American citizens who have used the First Amendment to peacefully assemble, hold protests and publicly express their views as an important form of direct citizen action are no longer allowed to be in the very areas their protests might most likely be heard. But if they assemble there anyway, they can be tossed in prison for up to ten years.
HR 347 accomplishes this not by actually creating new crimes, but merely by making one slight change in language to an existing trespass law from 1971. But the change is significant and is what makes HR 347 so dangerous. The original law states that a person must enter a restricted area “knowingly” and “willfully”, placing the burden of proof on the government to prove a citizen's intentions. HR 347 removes "willfully", thereby placing the burden of proof on the citizen.
As Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), who voted against HR 347, put it, "Current law makes it illegal to enter or remain in an area where certain government officials, more particularly, those with Secret Service protection, will be visiting temporarily if and only if the person knows it's illegal to enter the restricted area but does so anyway. 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 it's illegal."
Since the President can designate any event he wishes as one requiring Secret Service protection, and because HR 347 imposes a real threat of arrest to citizens, this conveniently separates the President from the public and isolates him from questions, complaints and other forms of legitimate protests allowed under the First Amendment. Under HR 347, citizens merely in the presence of the President can now be charged with a felony for the simple act of voicing a concern or holding a sign he doesn't want to see. While the President may claim HR 347 simply adds a layer of security, since when did posters and chants constitute danger?
The real danger here is that our own government is working not to improve America, but to silence her citizens from their free speech rights. That's a threat that deserves resounding protests, but where would an American be able to make his protests meaningfully heard without being arrested? Once again our Constitution is being assaulted, while U.S. citizens are further marginalized and silenced.
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