House Votes to Make Protest Near Secret Service Illegal

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 passed the House 388-to-3 this past Monday. It already passed the Senate back on February 6th.

The bill will give prosecutors the broad powers to charge anyone who enters any building or grounds without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if the Secret Service is present.

This bill essentially makes it illegal to protest anyone being protected by the Secret Service.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection, GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security and it was confirmed last week to CBS News that presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection when he was still in the running for the nomination. So not only would it be illegal to protest the president or any elected official under the protection of the Secret Service but even presidential candidates could ask for and get tax payer paid protection from any expression of dissent.

The law is intended to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so. Those grounds are considered any area where someone, whether it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney, will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises.

Under those terms a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be considered a federal offense.

Beyond the president, elected officials and presidential candidates, the Secret Service often protects visiting heads of state as well as events deemed to be of national significance by the Department of Homeland Security. Past such events defined as a National Special Security Event (NSSE) include the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses, the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions and Super Bowl XXXVI.

One of only three lawmakers to vote against the act on Monday, Rep. Justin Amash explained his vote on his Facebook page.

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. Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity, even if that activity is annoying to those government officials, violates our rights,”.

Rep. Amash also included a link to an article covering the passage of the bill as an example of how the public is being mislead about the legislation. You can the read the whitewashed coverage of this bill here


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