ICNL seeks to create a legal environment that protects and strengthens nonprofits, activists, and philanthropy in the United States. We promote freedoms of association, assembly, and expression by analyzing trends in civic space, tracking state and federal laws affecting protest, and providing nonprofit organizations with information about legal compliance and risk management. The U.S. program also aims to reduce the negative impact on civil society of “foreign agent” legislation and counter-terrorism measures.
United States Program
The Foreign Agents Registration Act has become a central policy tool to respond to foreign interference in U.S. politics. However, stepping up enforcement of FARA before reforming the act is a recipe for disaster. FARA is overbroad and has been used to target U.S. activists and nonprofits. Find out more by reading our article in Foreign Policy entitled The Foreign Agents Registration Act is Broken.
The United States has seen a rise in demonstrations surrounding the construction of pipelines by those concerned about their harm to the environment, indigenous land, and landowner rights. In response, several states have proposed bills that proponents claim will protect critical infrastructure from trespass and vandalism. This legislative briefer focuses on how critical infrastructure bills can undermine protesters’ right to peaceful assembly by creating draconian penalties for trespass as well as severely penalizing vaguely defined interference with the construction or operation of critical infrastructure sites. Download the full briefer here.
The United States has a vibrant civil society, but it faces new threats and looming dangers. This short report explores how recent or proposed changes in laws and regulations in the United States may affect civil society organizations, including domestic organizations, international organizations working in the United States, and U.S. organizations working internationally. View the full report here.
A common tactic of governments that want to constrain civil society is to enact legislation targeting groups that receive international funding. In this briefer, ICNL describes how the United States’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) has been used to justify legislation restricting civil society in other countries. Download the full briefer here.
In partnership with the Council on Foundations, ICNL maintains reports on thirty-four countries to assist U.S grantmakers when they undertake equivalency determinations for foreign grantees.
Current Trends in U.S. Civic Space
Corporations and lawmakers are deploying new types of “lawfare” to weaponize the law to undermine environmental organizations and their message. These tactics should be concerning for all nonprofits engaged in advocacy on politically contested topics.
Activists have called for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) aimed at Israel over its policy towards Palestine. In response, at least 27 U.S. states have enacted so-called “anti-BDS” bills, several of which have been challenged in court as unconstitutional.
Immigration rights advocates claim that in at least twenty cases, the U.S. government has targeted them with immigration enforcement actions because of their activism. Read more about this disturbing trend here.
Strategic lawsuits against public participation (or SLAPPs) impede the ability of civil society to engage in advocacy. Recent high-profile cases highlight how SLAPPs can close civic space.
U.S. university campuses have long been associated with student protests and free expression. But a recent upsurge in new regulations and laws regulating campus protests threaten to curtail those rights.
In the United States, collective liability is increasingly applied in the context of demonstrations. This troubling development threatens to restrict the right to protest.