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 United States is in the midst of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. All 50 states, as well as the federal government, have now declared emergencies and issued a range of executive orders to combat the spread of the virus. While COVID-19 is a serious threat to public health, measures to address it should not become a serious threat to civil liberties. Read our Current Trend analysis here.
Across the country, communities are gathering at rallies and marches to express concerns about pipelines’ impact on the environment, landowner rights, and indigenous land. “Critical infrastructure” laws target these kinds of gatherings. This one-page overview explains what these laws do and how they can be used to limit freedom of assembly in the US.
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.
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
All 50 states and the federal government have declared emergencies and issued a range of executive orders to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus is a serious public health threat, measures to address it should not become a serious threat to civil liberties.
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.
New surveillance technologies have the potential for abuse when law enforcement agencies use them to monitor peaceful assemblies.