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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Capitol buildings and their surrounding grounds provide demonstrators with a public venue that is not only symbolic but also within the “sight and sound” of representatives who can act on their message and media that can amplify it. Yet across the country, governors and lawmakers are using various tools to limit, punish, and deter demonstrations at state capitols. Explore this issue further in our latest U.S. Current Trend.
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.
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.