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.
Freedom of Assembly
Protecting Peaceful Protest in the U.S.
Countering Anti-protest Bills
Since 2017, ICNL has tracked hundreds of state and federal bills that restrict the right to protest. Through analysis of these bills and other research tools, we arm stakeholders with resources to identify and combat restrictive legislation.
- Litigation Challenging New Anti-Protest Laws (2023)
- U.S. Current Trend: New Restrictions on Protests at Statehouses (2023)
- Analysis of US Anti-Protest Bills
- ICNL Congressional Testimony to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (2022)
- Current Trend: Bills Provide Immunity to Drivers Who Hit Protesters (2021)
- Current Trend: New Wave of Legislation Targeting Black Lives Matter Protesters (2021)
- ICNL Testimony to the Tennessee Advisory Committee, US Commission on Civil Rights, on Senate Bill 8005 (2022)
- Overview: Critical Infrastructure Bills in the US
- Legislative Briefer: Critical Infrastructure Bills: Targeting Protesters through Extreme Penalties (2019)
- Legislative Briefer: “Guilt by Association:” Critical Infrastructure Bills and the Right to Protest (2018)
- Legislative Briefer: Campus Speech Bills and the Right to Protest (2018)
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.
- Tracking Reform Efforts to Restrict Less Lethal Weapons
- Comment to US Government on its compliance with Article 21 of the ICCPR
- Legislative Briefer: Restricting the Use of Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, and Other Less Lethal Weapons in Crowd Control (2020)
- Current Trend: Protest Rights Accountability and Reform: Addressing Violations of the Rights of Protesters at 2020 Black Lives Matter (2022)
- Op-Ed: The Right to Protest is Sacrosanct. California Needs to Protect that Right from Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets (San Francisco Chronicle) (2021)
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.
- Five Problems with Anti-Rioting Laws (ICNL Briefer)
- Rethinking the Crime of Rioting (Minnesota Law Review)
- Op-Ed: The Danger of Anti-Riot Acts (NBC THINK) (2020)
- ICNL Testimony to the Washington DC City Council on Reforming DC’s Anti-Riot Law
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.
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.
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.