Challenges to the right to protest have come in many forms over the last few years. And standing up for your right to protest can be increasingly challenging when demonstrations are met with unjust punishments. Indiana elected officials are looking to add to the already prevalent fear of police intimidation by tacking on additional monetary punishment based on association.

Senate Bill 471 is part of a nationwide push by special interest groups working to suppress free speech. Following the recent uptick in activism in the form of protests and rallies against Trump-Pence administration policies, it is clear that this bill aims to undercut dissenting voices.

High profile and effective campaigns such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the Standing Rock protest against oil and gas pipelines, have increasingly come under fire from powerful interests looking to squash legitimate challenges to corporate actions and policies. Indiana’s bill is one of many across the country that demonize protesters and portray social activists as threatening.

Existing Indiana laws already prohibit trespassing and property damage. But proponents of SB 471 claim the bill is meant to protect “critical infrastructure” from such damages. With laws already on the books to do just that, what are the actual implications of SB 471?

Proponents across the nation know that the fear of unjust punishments can chill expressive activity and result in self-censorship. Under SB 471, if one protester is arrested for trespassing or damages, all other organizations and groups involved in the protest may be at risk of heavy fines, as high as $100,000. It is clear that the true purpose of this bill is to weaken First Amendment rights by threatening to entrap those who seek to speak truth to power.

In addition, this bill holds an individual “liable upon arrest” for any damage related to trespassing, even if someone else caused the damage. This violates the Fourteenth Amendment, under which punishment can only occur after wrongdoing is established.

At best, this bill is entirely unnecessary. At worst, it is meant to chill speech. A person cannot lawfully be prosecuted for using truthful information to sway public opinion. Corporations are already abusing existing laws to silence dissent and shut the public out of decision-making. Now, lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests even more tools to punish people for speaking up for their families and communities.

That is an attack on the constitution — one we will continue to resist. Take action now!

 

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