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 Many Problems with Anti-Rioting Laws
While the government has a legitimate interest in combatting riots, anti-rioting laws have a history of abuse, allowing government to bring charges with extreme penalties against protesters, politicians, and other Americans engaged in protected First Amendment activity. They can also lead to costly lawsuits that sap state coffers and waste taxpayer money. These laws should either be better targeted or eliminated. Read the full briefer here.
Protesting in an Age of Government Surveillance
Protesters face growing government surveillance. ICNL’s briefer Protesting in an Age of Government Surveillance examines how new types of technology used by the government to surveil protests can lead to abuse and deter demonstrators from exercising their First Amendment rights. It then outlines how both courts and lawmakers can respond to this threat.
New Restrictions on Civic Mobilization in the United States
After the recent wave of judgments from the Supreme Court on abortion, gun control, and environmental regulation, many Americans are looking for alternatives to the courts for ways to enact democratic change. Yet, in the past several years, states across the country have enacted laws restricting demonstrations, boycotts, and other modes of activism, which are increasingly reducing the space for civic mobilization. Check out this op-ed in the LA Times by ICNL’s Nick Robinson to learn more about this problem.
Keeping Guns Away from Protests
Since January 2020, the U.S. has witnessed over 600 armed protests. The presence of firearms is intimidating and chills people’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly. It also creates real dangers for demonstrators. A 2021 study found that protests with firearms were six times more likely to result in violence. Reasonable and constitutionally sound options are available to deal with this issue. These options are explored in our lastest briefer, Keeping Guns Away from Protests.
Fixing the FARA Mess
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 Just Security entitled Fixing the FARA Mess.
U.S. Protest Law Tracker
Started in 2017, the tracker compiles bills – proposed, enacted, or rejected – that could restrict the right to peaceful assembly around the United States.
Reforms to Protect Protest Rights
Started in 2020, this page tracks municipal, state, and federal reforms to better protect protest rights including restrictions on tear gas and rubber bullets, efforts to demilitarize the police, and reforms of public order laws that can undermine the freedom of assembly.
Foreign Agents Registration Act
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) has been used to target nonprofits, activists, and others. Learn more about the impact on civil society of its broad and vague provisions.
Freedom of Assembly
The ability to protest is a cornerstone of U.S. democracy. Browse ICNL’s resources on current threats to the right of assembly in the United States, including legislative briefers, analyses, and reports.
Compliance & Risk Management
This page provides resources for U.S. nonprofits seeking to comply with federal and state laws as well as learn more about risk management.
Global Grantmaking Country Notes
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.