United States Program

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.

Be sure to browse our U.S. Protest Law TrackerCurrent Trends, and Highlights.

Highlights

10 Major Legal Threats to U.S. Civil Society

A growing array of legal threats makes it harder for nonprofit organizations and activists in the U.S. to do their work. The 2024 elections may further restrict civic space in a deeply polarized country. Below are 10 major legal threats to U.S. civil society that the elections may exacerbate, with potentially far-ranging effects.  Explore this issue further in our analysis here.

photo credit via unsplash jonathan harrison
Anti-Riot Laws in the United States

Anti-riot laws are often weaponized to target nonviolent protesters. This database catalogs all federal and state anti-rioting and incitement to riot laws in the United States. While these laws vary widely, many are drafted too broadly and can include protected First Amendment activities, resulting in severe penalties for peaceful protesters, organizers, and even bystanders. Such laws can be selectively enforced and have long been used by authorities to target and punish unpopular voices.

The US Capital Building, photo credit Tim Mossholder via UnSplash
Congressional Investigations Targeting Nonprofits

There has been a recent flurry of investigations in the current U.S. House of Representatives that target nonprofit organizations. These investigations cross a range of issues, but create burdens and risks for the nonprofits being investigated, as well as potentially for a much broader swath of the nonprofit community. Learn more about the issue in this ICNL analysis.

State Domestic Terrorism Laws in the United States

U.S. federal law defines domestic terrorism, but provides no penalties. Instead, the offense of domestic terrorism is state-based, and varies considerably across the country. This database provides a summary of the crime of domestic terrorism in each state that criminalizes the offense, along with links to the relevant statutes. The database also indicates if there is also a separate crime of providing support to further an act of terrorism or a terroristic threat offense.

Litigation Challenging Anti-Protest Laws; An american flag with protesters.
Litigation Challenging New Anti-Protest Laws

Since 2017, states across the U.S. have adopted over forty new laws that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. These laws can criminalize and deter constitutionally protected protest activity, undermining our First Amendment rights. Advocates have challenged many of the new laws, and in some cases courts have found them to be unconstitutional. This page tracks such litigation and provides access to publicly available documents that may be helpful to lawyers, activists, and others seeking to protect assembly rights.

Just Security image source Getty Images
How DHS is Fueling Georgia’s “Terrorism” Crackdown on Cop City Protests

ICNL Senior Legal Advisor Nick Robinson explores Georgia’s recent use of the state’s domestic terrorism statute to charge Cop City protesters. He argues that the Department of Homeland Security needs to take action to ensure that its “domestic violent extremism” policies are not weaponized by local law enforcement against protesters. Learn more about “terrorism” in an era of aggressive policing against protesters in this Just Security article.

Key Resources

ICNL's work on issues impacting Freedom of Assembly in the U.S.

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.

ICNL's U.S. Protest Law Tracker - landing page button

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.

ICNL's work on the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

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.

Reforms to Protect Protest Rights graphic with protest

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.

State Domestic Terrorism Laws

State domestic terrorism laws have been weaponized to target protesters and activists. This database provides information about all state domestic terrorism laws in the United States. 

ICNL's list of resources and information on compliance and risk management for U.S. nonprofits.

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.