Only days after clearing Congress, US President Barack Obama signed his name to H.R. 347 on Thursday, officially making it a federal offense to cause a disturbance at certain political events — essentially criminalizing protest in the States.
RT broke the news last month that H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, had overwhelmingly passed the US House of Representatives after only three lawmakers voted against it. On Thursday this week, President Obama inked his name to the legislation and authorized the government to start enforcing a law that has many Americans concerned over how the bill could bury the rights to assemble and protest as guaranteed in the US Constitution.
Under H.R. 347, which has more commonly been labeled the Trespass Bill by Congress, knowingly entering a restricted area that is under the jurisdiction of Secret Service protection can garner an arrest. The law is actually only a slight change to earlier legislation that made it an offense to knowingly and willfully commit such a crime. Under the Trespass Bill’s latest language chance, however, someone could end up in law enforcement custody for entering an area that they don’t realize is Secret Service protected and “engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct” or “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
The Secret Service serves as the police that protects not just current and former American presidents, but are also dispatched to monitor special events of national significance, a category with a broad cast of qualifiers. In the past, sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits have been designated as such by the US Department of Homeland Security, the division that decides when and where the Secret Service are needed outside of their normal coverage.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund tells the International Business Times that the Trespass Bill in its current form “means it’s easier to prosecute under ‘knowingly,’” instead of both knowingly and willfully, “which is an issue because someone could knowingly enter a restricted but not necessarily realize they are committing a crime.” Speaking with IB Times, Verheyden-Hilliard tries to lay to rest claims that the Constitution will be crippled by the Trespass Bill, but acknowledges that it does indeed allow law enforcement to have added incentive to arrest protesters who could be causing a disturbance.