Freedom of Assembly

Protecting Peaceful Protest in the U.S.

From women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, protests are core to the democratic tradition of the United States. Yet the right to protest is under attack. Peaceful protesters have faced violence by law enforcement and third parties, intrusive surveillance, and arrest and prosecution. As part of our U.S. Program, ICNL works to protect and promote the right to freedom of assembly, developing cutting-edge analysis and other research resources to help advocates and other stakeholders defend this fundamental freedom.

US Freedom of Association graphic

Focus Areas

WTO protests in Seattle, November 30, 1999 Pepper spray is applied to the crowd. (Photo: Steve Kaiser/Creative Commons)

Limiting Excessive Force

Peaceful protesters have faced indiscriminate and excessive force at the hands of law enforcement. ICNL resources to address this threat include recommendations for reforms to limit the use of tear gas and other so-called less lethal weapons and to ensure accountability for law enforcement violence against protesters.

Black Lives Matter protesters enveloped in tear gas, near the White House in Washington DC, 5/31/2020 (Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash)

Reforming Anti-riot Acts

Authorities have long used anti-riot laws to arrest and punish peaceful protesters. ICNL resources explain the threat posed by such vague and overbroad laws and include recommendations for reform.

Women giving peace sign at protest (photo credit:

Civil Disobedience and the Law

Protesters who engage in nonviolent unlawful conduct, such as blocking traffic, face emerging threats including substantial new penalties and expansive liability. ICNL resources explore how the law should address civil disobedience without chilling protected peaceful protest activity.

Armed protester at the United We Stand & Patriots March for America (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/CC 2.0)

Keeping Guns away from Protests

The US has witnessed a growing number of armed protests. The presence of guns discourages people from exercising their rights to assembly and speech, interferes with democratic processes, and poses a threat to public safety. ICNL is working to advance reasonable and constitutionally-sound reforms to keep guns away from protests.

Group of outdoor security cameras (Photo credit: Nathaniel Dahan)


Protesters face an array of new types of surveillance, including the use of facial recognition technology and geolocation data. Invasive surveillance that identifies and tracks protesters can deter demonstrators from attending protests and places them at risk. ICNL works to create legal safeguards to prevent the abusive use of surveillance against demonstrators.

Current Trends in U.S. Civic Space

Congressional Investigations Targeting Nonprofits

The US Capital Building, photo credit Tim Mossholder via UnSplash
There has been a recent flurry of investigations in the current U.S. House of Representatives ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: New Restrictions on Protests at Statehouses

people protesting at a capital building.
Across the country, governors and lawmakers are using various tools to limit, punish, and deter ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: New Threats to the Right to Boycott

U.S. coins (Photo: Skeeze/Pixabay)
Politically motivated boycotts have long been a tool for social change in the United States, ... Read More

All U.S. Freedom of Assembly Resources

Reforms Introduced to Protect the Freedom of Assembly

In the wake of complaints about law enforcement’s response to the George Floyd protests, local, ... Read More

Litigation Challenging New Anti-Protest Laws

States across the U.S. have adopted over forty new laws that restrict the right to ... Read More

U.S. Current Trend: New Restrictions on Protests at Statehouses

Across the country, governors and lawmakers are using various tools to limit, punish, and deter ... Read More