Congress Infringing on First Amendment Rights with HR347?

Well, this is alarming. This bill just passed unanimously in the Senate, and nearly so in the House:

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011’’.

RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
§ 1752. Restricted building or grounds (a) Whoever—
(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; (2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; ‘‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or ‘‘(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds;
or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a)
is—‘‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for
not more than 10 years, or both, if—
‘‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or ‘‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and‘‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.

‘‘(c) In this section—‘‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area— ‘‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds; ‘‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or ‘‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and ‘‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’’.

At first glance, this seems like a fairly innocuous bill. However, the sections in bold are what concern me. Though suspiciously vague, it seems as though this is another bill written in response to very specific events, without any consideration for the broader implications. Though this time, the legislation passed, with overwhelming support and with little media attention.

Those who have taken note of the bill, are speculating that this could make protesting illegal, especially at events like Party Conventions and UN summits. I’m inclined to agree, given the sections that I’ve highlighted in bold.

Freedom Of Religion: What Happened?

“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.” –The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights

Freedom of religion.

This used to mean that every citizen had the right to her own beliefs in God. She had the right to choose her own church, and attend it freely. She had the right to pray to her own God, with no governmental inference.

This used to mean that every citizen had the right to belief in no god. She could not be compelled to attend church, or to pray to any god.

It meant that there was no State Church, no State religion.

When did it come to mean that the beliefs and practices of a faith held by a numerical majority of the country could be written into law?

When did it come to mean that the declarations of a religious system had to be given deferential treatment, that one’s faith held equal footing with science in the practice of medicine?

When did it come to mean that religious leaders held more sway with our government than its very own people?

What happened?

Church attendance has declined. Our knowledge of science has advanced. Technology has developed so quickly that our world has been changed dramatically. The power of the Church has been waning. It can no longer send armies to subdue heretics. Questions that humans have been asking for centuries are increasingly being answered by science. The Church is losing, every day, more and more, the status of having all the answers, to life, the universe, and everything.

It is no coincidence that religion is fighting for so hard now in this country what it fought against over two hundred years ago. They began fighting against it as almost as soon as they got it.

Supreme Court Decides on Westboro Baptist Church Case

Earlier today, the Supreme Court (U.S.) released its decision on Snyder v. Phelps. This is the case where Snyder, the father of a fallen Marine, sued Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s funeral.

The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Phelpses.

Having read the decision, the decision in favor of Westboro troubles me. It seems that the Court has taken the easy way out (though undoubtedly unpopular).

Firstly, it does not even consider Westboro’s actions as harassing, only as “speech on broad public issues.” Secondly, it holds that the signs that specifically target Lance Corporal Snyder and his family were irrelevant, because their overall message was one speaking of “moral” and “religious” issues. The Court also holds that since the protest was on public property, complying with police orders, and out of sight of the church itself, that while the protest was scheduled and located to be in the same place and time as Lance Corporal Snyder’s funeral, it was not intentionally causing emotional distress. Thirdly, they did not consider a posting by a member of Westboro post-funeral that personally attacked Matthew and his parents, (though it was brought up at trial) which would prove that the protest was not public commentary, but rather a personal attack. (Since apparently, the signs were not enough. I won’t quote them here, because they’re triggering and hateful, but if you wish to know, some are mentioned in the New York Times article, and most in the Court’s decision itself.)

Justice Alito was the sole dissenter, and wrote a very good opinion. I urge you to read it, even if you’re not interested in reading the entire decision, which is thirty-six pages long. Alito’s dissent begins on page twenty-three of the PDF.

Here are some excerpts from Alito’s dissent:

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