Labor protest in the Wisconsin State Capitol
Photo credit: Emily Mills (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

The text of the First Amendment is not confusing.  It is in plain English and reads:

“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.”

Note, it does not state that Congress (or government) shall make no law abridging protesting.

Are we assumptive, for no real reason, in believing that organized protests are part and parcel of “peaceable assembly”?  One can make a case that we are.

An individual can stand on the steps of a State Capitol, holding a sign and protest the government without permission from the government in the form of a permit.  However, if that same individual organizes 100 people to stand on those steps and hold signs with them, permission is required from the government, and that permission is frequently denied based on the “maybe” things “might” become disruptive.

Have you ever needed a permit to pray in public?  Nope.  Does a journalist need one to write an article about a public venue?  Nope.  Do you need one to go to your State House and file grievance with your government?  Nope.  However, you do need one for an organized protest.

A “right” that requires permission from the government to exercise isn’t an absolute right at all.  It is a privilege.

That said, I am a huge proponent of peaceful protest.  The TEA Party protests were a successful element for the right and a component to regaining control of the House and Senate.  The Open Carry protests in Texas directly changed carry laws in the state.  Protests are a good thing when done right and in a non-violent manner.

However, that does not change the fact that protests require permission from the government, can be denied by the government, and are mentioned nowhere in the Constitution.  So is it a right?

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