US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to protest. For information about our methodology, click here.

31 states have
considered
64 bills
9 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
8 pending 45 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 29, 2018 (Pennsylvania), Aug. 22, 2018 (Virginia), Jul. 12, 2018 (US Federal)
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US Federal

HR 6054: Harsh penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

The “Unmask Antifa Act of 2018” would make it a federal crime, subject to a lengthy prison sentence, to wear a mask or other disguise while protesting in a “threatening” or “intimidating” way. Under the act, anyone who “injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates any person” while “in disguise, including while wearing a mask” could be sentenced to up to fifteen years in prison as well as fined. The bill explicitly exempts police and other law enforcement agents, stating that “nothing in this section shall be construed so as to deter any law enforcement officer from lawfully carrying out the duties of his office.” The name of the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Daniel Donovan and supported by Reps. Peter King, Ted Budd, and Paul Gosar, refers to the leftist anti-Fascist movement, some members of which have worn masks during protests. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Jun 2018.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Illinois

HB 2939: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires public universities and community colleges to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Feb 2017.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Massachusetts

HB 916: New penalties for protesters who block traffic

Would provide for harsh new penalties for individuals who impede traffic in the course of a protest or demonstration. The bill creates a broad offense of intentionally blocking, obstructing, impeding or otherwise interfering with the “normal and reasonable movement of vehicular or pedestrian traffic” on a public street or highway, punishable by up to $5,000 and a year in jail. Under the bill, police may arrest without a warrant any person they have probable cause to believe has unlawfully impeded traffic. The bill further makes any person convicted of unlawfully impeding traffic liable for the costs incurred by public and/or private emergency services in responding to the incident. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 30 Jun 2017.

Issue(s): security costs, traffic interference

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Michigan

SB 350: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires community and public colleges to prohibit and subject to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. The bill requires that college administrators suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” for instance through a protest or demonstration. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 2 May 2017.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Ohio

SB 250: New penalties for protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure by expanding the definitions of "criminal trespass" and "criminal mischief." Entering and remaining on marked or fenced-off property that contains a "critical infrastructure facility" would be criminal trespass under the bill and could be charged as a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Doing so with the purpose of tampering with or harming the facility would constitute aggravated trespass, a third degree felony; knowingly tampering with the facility would constitute "criminal mischief" and a first degree felony--punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. "Critical infrastructure facility" is expansively defined to encompass oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities among many others. The bill also imposes fines on organizations found to be complicit in the trespass or mischief offenses, and imposes civil liability for damage caused by trespass on a critical infrastructure facility. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 24 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): damage costs, infrastructure, trespass

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Ohio

HB 423: Harsh penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would broadly prohibit the wearing of masks or other disguises in certain circumstances during protests. The bill criminalizes the wearing of a mask or disguise to intentionally "obstruct the execution of the law," "to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt" a person who is performing a legal duty, or to prevent a person from exercising rights granted to them by the Constitution or laws of Ohio (such as the right to assemble). Under the bill, commission of "masked intimidation" as defined by any of the above would be a first degree misdemeanor, subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to its sponsors, the bill originated out of concerns about violent confrontations caused by masked protesters. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 21 Nov 2017.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Pennsylvania

SB 754: Charging protesters for the costs of responding to a protest

Would make individual protesters potentially liable for “public safety response costs” incurred by the state or “political subdivision” during a protest or rally. The bill allows local authorities to seek restitution from protesters convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the course of a protest or demonstration, in order to pay for the costs of responding to the event. Such costs could include overtime for police officers and emergency medical services, as well as “related legal, administrative, and court expenses.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 16 Aug 2017.

Issue(s): security costs

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Pennsylvania

SB 652: Heightened penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten potential penalties for protests around critical infrastructure such as gas and oil pipelines by providing for the crime of "criminal trespass” onto a critical infrastructure facility. Under the bill, it is a felony to enter a critical infrastructure facility "with the intent to willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment or impede or inhibit the operations of the facility." The bill broadly defines “critical infrastructure facility” to include natural gas facilities and pipelines, "whether constructed or under construction," as well as "equipment and machinery, regardless of location, to the extent that it is used to construct, maintain, or operate a critical infrastructure facility." Other facilities considered critical infrastructure include cell phone towers, telephone poles, and railroad tracks that are fenced off or posted as no-entry areas. Under the bill, entering such an area with the intent to cause damage or disruption is a second-degree felony. An individual who "conspires" to do so commits a first-degree felony.

The bill was substantially amended on 25 September 2018, including to significantly expand the definition of "critical infrastructure facility." (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 25 Apr 2017; Approved by Senate 23 May 2018

Issue(s): infrastructure, trespass

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Virginia

HB 1601: Banning protests by members of domestic terrorist groups

Would newly define and designate “domestic terrorist organizations,” and bar their members from assembling in groups of three or more. The bill broadly defines an “act of domestic terrorism,” in part echoing the state’s definition of a hate crime. The bill would provide for state authorities to designate as a "domestic terrorist organization" an identifiable group that aims to commit an act of domestic terrorism or whose members individually or collectively have attempted to commit an act of domestic terrorism. According to the bill, members of a designated domestic terrorist organization are prohibited from assembling in groups of three or more persons. The bill provides that such an assembly is unlawful, and any individual who participates in such an “unlawful assembly” (whether a member or not) could be charged with a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If an individual carries a firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon while participating in such an “unlawful assembly” of domestic terrorist group members, they are subject to a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which helped draft the bill, indicated that it was prompted by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12. Critics of the bill have noted that the broad language of the bill could allow authorities to target minority communities who have “unpopular beliefs.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 19 Jan 2018.

Issue(s): terrorism

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For more information about the Tracker, contact Elly Page at EPage@icnl.org.