Know Your Rights as a Protester

Court cases helped shape what we know of our rights to be as we protest.  Oddly, and sadly, most police officers don’t know the full extent of your rights as a protester.  Whether they like it or not, protesting is the most Patriotic and America thing you can do!  A helpful guide of your Protesting Rights and Notable Case law to back it up.


Traditional Public Forums,” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks are the most protected places to protest.  You don’t need a permit to march in the streets or on sidewalks, as long as marchers don’t obstruct car or pedestrian traffic. If you don’t have a permit, police officers can ask you to move to the side of a street or sidewalk to let others pass or for safety reasons.

Even, on public property, like plazas in front of government buildings, as long as you are (1) not blocking access to the government building or (2) interfering with other purposes the property was designed for (See below; Notable Cases: Location of Protests).  Certain types of events may require permits. These include a march or parade that requires blocking traffic or street closure; a large rally requiring the use of sound amplifying devices; or a rally over a certain size at most parks or plazas.

The government can NOT restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.  Sometimes it is best to get it in writing, the consent of the property owner.

Can government impose a financial charge on exercising free speech rights?

Some local governments have required a fee as a condition of exercising free speech rights, such as application fees, security deposits for clean-up, or charges to cover overtime police costs. Charges that cover actual administrative costs have been permitted by some courts. However, if the costs are greater because an event is controversial (or a hostile crowd is expected)—such as requiring a large insurance policy—then the courts will not permit it. Also, regulations with financial requirements should include a waiver for groups that cannot afford the charge, so that even grassroots organizations can exercise their free speech rights. Therefore, a group without significant financial resources should not be prevented from engaging in a march simply because it cannot afford the charges the City would like to impose.

While certain permit procedures require submitting an application well in advance of the planned event, police can’t use those procedures to prevent a protest in response to breaking news events.  A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views.  If the permit regulations that apply to your protest require a fee for a permit, they should allow a waiver for those who cannot afford the charge.


You may approach pedestrians on public sidewalks with leaflets, newspapers, petitions and solicitations for donations without a permit. Tables may also be set up on sidewalks for these purposes if sufficient room is left for pedestrians to pass. These types of free speech activities are legal as long as entrances to buildings are not blocked and passers-by are not physically and maliciously detained. However, a permit may be required to set up a table.

Counterprotesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counterprotesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.

What happens if the police issues an order to disperse the protest?

  • Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be law enforcement’s last resort. Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
  • If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
  • Individuals must receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.

What happens if the police stop you while protesting?

  • Stay calm. Make sure to keep your hands visible. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you believe they are violating your rights. Point out that you are not disrupting anyone else’s activity and that the First Amendment protects your actions.  Record the whole interaction.
  • Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly walk away.
  • If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why and Ask to talk to a supervisor. Otherwise, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately.  They are NOT your friend, especially when they are collecting evidence for their investigation on your arrest.  Every word you say WILL be used against you in the court of law.  Don’t say anything or sign anything without a lawyer.  Say it loud and plainly.
  • You do not have to sign anything that you do not understand.  If you do not understand the citation, do not sign it; and continually repeat that you do not understand and you want your attorney to review it.
  • You have the right to make a local phone call, and if you’re calling your lawyer, police are not allowed to listen.
  • You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. If you do explicitly consent, it can affect you later in court; therefore, there is no reason to give explicit consent and it could harm you later.  You may state that you refuse to give consent.
  • Police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon and may search you after an arrest.
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.


When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including federal buildings and the police. On private property, the owner may set rules related to photography or video.

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

What to do if you are stopped or detained for taking photographs

  • Always remain calm and never physically resist a police officer.
  • Police cannot detain you without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so.
  • If you are stopped, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, calmly walk away.
  • If you are detained, ask the officer what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

What to do if you believe your rights have been violated

  • When you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for; last name.  Listen to what the other officers refer to them as.
  • Get contact information for any and all witnesses.
  • Discuss with friends a head of time to record your incident, if one was to take place.
  • Take photographs of any injuries.
  • Keep any and all documents related to the incident and situation.
  • Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
  • If it is a serious enough event, contact the local news agency as well.

Notable Cases

Location of Protests

  1. Adderley v. Florida.  Approximately 200 others assembled in a non-public jail driveway to protest the arrests of fellow students and the state and local policies of racial segregation which included segregation in jails.  The Court found that there were no constitutional violations in this case.  the sheriff acted to maintain access to the jail house and not because he “objected to what was being sung . . . or disagreed with the objectives of the protest,” there were no First Amendment violations. (Limited freedom)
  2. Boss v. Barry.  A provision in the District of Columbia Code prohibited the display of signs within 500 feet of a foreign embassy which tended to “bring that government into public odium or public disrepute.” Congregations of three or more persons within the 500 feet limit were prohibited as well.  The Court found that the Code’s restriction on sign displays violated the First Amendment while the ban on congregations did not. (Limited freedom)
  3. Cameron v. JohnsonAffirming a lower court’s dismissal of injunctive relief. The Court agreed that Dombrowski did not warrant invalidation of the Mississippi law, which was understood to apply only to blocking access to public facilities.  Younger v. Harris (1971) subsequently limited the scope of the Dombrowski decision. (Limited freedom)
  4. Carey v. Brown, 1980.  An Illinois statute barring picketing of residences, except in cases of peaceful picketing of homes doubling as places of employment.  According to the Court, once a state opens a forum “to assembly or speaking by some groups, government may not prohibit others from assembling or speaking on the basis of what they intend to say.”  Illinois law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Expanded freedom)
  5. Cox v. Louisiana, 1964.  Planned to march through parts of Baton Rouge, LA, ending with a demonstration at the courthouse.  Baton Rouge Police Chief Wingate White confronted the protestors when they arrived at the courthouse.  After the group began their demonstration, a sheriff ordered them to disperse. Officers then forcibly dispersed the demonstration and arrested several demonstrators.  Louisiana’s “disturbing the peace” statute is unconstitutional on its face because it is vague in its overly broad scope, and the policy of Baton Rouge law enforcement of giving officers complete discretion in enforcing the “obstructing public passages” statute deprives Cox of his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly.  (Expanded freedom)
  6. Henry v. City of Rock Hill, 1964.  Edwards v. South Carolina and Fields v. South Carolina, which established that the peaceful expression of unpopular views at a place not lawfully proscribed by state law is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from state criminal action, are controlling here. (Expanded freedom)
  7. Police Department of the City of Chicago v. Mosley, 1972.  Chicago adopted an ordinance prohibiting picketing within 150 feet of a school during school hours; the law made an exception for peaceful labor picketing.  The exemption for labor picketing violated the equal protection clause.  Government regulation of message content is presumed unconstitutional unless there are compelling justifications.  And regulations that selectively exclude speakers from a public forum must undergo careful judicial examination to ensure the minimal degree of furthering an important government interest. (Expanded freedom)
  8. Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 1965, a police officer observed a group of ten or twelve people congregated in one area. They were standing and talking with Shuttlesworth apparently at the center of the conversation.  told the group to move on and clear the sidewalk. Some of the group began to leave. Byars repeated his command.   Shuttlesworth asked, “You mean to say we can’t stand here on the sidewalk?”  Shuttlesworth repeated his question, and Byars told him he was under arrest.  The court held that while both portions of the statute were facially constitutional, the trial court unconstitutionally applied the “obstructing free passage” portion of the ordinance.  The court held that the trial court unconstitutionally applied the “move on” portion of the ordinance to Shuttlesworth. (Expanded freedom)
  9. Walker v. City of Birmingham, 1967.  Civil rights activists who planned to march on Good Friday and Easter were denied parade permits from the city. When they indicated their intention to march anyway, Birmingham obtained an injunction from a state court which ordered them to refrain from demonstrating. Marchers who defied the order, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, were arrested.  The Court upheld the arrests since Walker failed to use proper judicial procedures to test the injunction’s validity. Even though, Justice Stewart admitted, the injunction seemed broad and vague, and the marchers may not have enjoyed due process when applying for the permit originally, simply disobeying the injunction was illegitimate as “no man can be judge in his own case . . . however righteous his motives.”(Limited freedom)
  10. Wood v. Moss, 2014.  opponents of President Bush organized a peaceful demonstration to protest his policies.   both opponents and supporters of President Bush gathered on the street of near the entrance to the inn, and each group had equal access to deliver its message to the President at the time of his arrival. Secret Service agents ordered local police to push protestors away from the immediate area for security reasons.  agents failed to give the same directive for supporters who remained stationed on the streets close to the inn.  The Court held that the agents had not violated any clearly established law in their attempt to maintain an appropriate level of protection for the President.  the plaintiffs were unable to establish that the Secret Service agents engaged in crowd control should have been aware of their duty to ensure that different groups obtained equal access to the President, the agents are eligible for qualified immunity. (Limited freedom)

Expression of Protests

  1. Bachellar v. Maryland, 1970.  Maryland’s disorderly conduct statute stemming from a demonstration protesting the Vietnam conflict must be set aside, as the jury’s general verdict, in light of the trial judge’s instructions, could have rested on several grounds, including “the doing or saying . . . of that which offends, disturbs, incites, or tends to incite a number of people gathered in the same area,” and a conviction on that ground would violate the constitutional protection for the advocacy of unpopular ideas. Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359. Pp. 397 U. S. 565-571. (Expanded freedom)
  2. Coates v. City of Cincinnati, 1971. Cincinnati officials charged several individuals, including Coates, a college student, with violating an ordinance making it a crime for three or more persons to gather on a public street and engage in annoying conduct.  The Supreme Court invalidated a city law against loitering that negatively affected freedom of assembly.  The law violated due process, noting that “this ordinance is unconstitutionally vague because it subjects the exercise of the right of assembly to an unascertainable standard, and [is] unconstitutionally broad because it authorizes the punishment of constitutionally protected conduct.” (Expanded freedom)
  3. Cohen v. California, 1971.  A 19-year-old department store worker expressed his opposition to the Vietnam War by wearing a jacket emblazoned with “FUCK THE DRAFT. STOP THE WAR” the Court reasoned that the expletive, while provocative, was not directed toward anyone; besides, there was no evidence that people in substantial numbers would be provoked into some kind of physical action by the words on his jacket. Harlan recognized that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” In doing so, the Court protected two elements of speech: the emotive (the expression of emotion) and the cognitive (the expression of ideas). (Expanded freedom)
  4. Edwards v. South Carolina, 1962.  187 black students were convicted in a magistrate’s court of breach of the peace for peacefully assembling at the South Carolina State Government.  During the course of the peaceful demonstration the police arrested the students after they did not obey an order to disperse.  The students were convicted of breach of the peace.  the Court reversed the criminal convictions of the black students. It was clear to the Court that in arresting, convicting, and punishing the students under the circumstances disclosed by the record, the state infringed the students’ constitutionally protected rights of free speech, free assembly, and freedom to petition for redress of their grievances. (Expanded freedom)
  5. Gooding v. Wilson, 1971.  The statute provided that “[a]ny person who shall, without provocation, use to or of another, and in his presence . . . opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”  The Supreme Court held that the Georgia statute was unconstitutional.  the Court reasoned that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.  the Court noted that “the separation of legitimate from illegitimate speech calls for more sensitive tools than (Georgia) has supplied.”  (Expanded freedom)
  6. Hess v. Indiana, 1973.  The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a demonstrator in affirming that advocacy of illegal activity in the indefinite future is protected by the First Amendment.  The justices concluded that Hess did not address any particular person or group with his speech, that he was not speaking louder than other demonstrators, and that he was arrested because of the particular words he used.  The Court determined that Hess’s speech could not be characterized as fitting within one of the narrow First Amendment exceptions that would permit his prosecution, such as for obscenity, based on Roth v. United States (1957); for fighting words, as in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942); or for violating privacy interests, based on Cohen v. California (1971).  Applying the Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) incitement test, the Court held that because Hess’s speech was not intended to incite imminent, further lawless action on the part of the crowd, or likely to produce such action, the state lacked sufficient grounds to punish the speech. (Expanded freedom)
  7. Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 1995.   the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council was authorized by the city of Boston to organize the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Council refused a place in the event for the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB). The group attempted to join to express its members’ pride in their Irish heritage as openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. The Massachusetts State Court ordered the Veterans’ Council to include GLIB under a state law prohibiting discrimination on account of sexual orientation in public accommodations.  A unanimous court held that the State Court’s ruling to require private citizens who organize a parade to include a group expressing a message that the organizers do not wish to convey violates the First Amendment by making private speech subordinate to the public accommodation requirement. Such an action “violate[s] the fundamental First Amendment rule that a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message and, conversely, to decide what not to say.” (Expanded freedom)
  8. Jones v. Board of Education, 1970.  The literature urging a boycott of registration was a pamphlet which is printed in the Appendix to this opinion.  Petitioner, being suspended indefinitely.  The leaflet now censored may be ill-tempered and in bad taste. But we recognized in Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 , that even strongly abusive utterances or publications, not merely polished and urbane pronouncements of dignified people, enjoy First Amendment protection.  Students are certainly entitled to enjoy First Amendment rights.  The campus, where this leaflet was distributed, is a fitting place for the dissemination of a wide spectrum of ideas. (Expanded freedom)
  9. Morse v. Federick, 2007.  At a school-supervised event, Joseph Frederick held up a banner with the message “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,”  the school’s policy against the display of material that promotes the use of illegal drugs.  The Court ruling that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use.  majority opinion held that although students do have some right to political speech even while in school, this right does not extend to pro-drug messages that may undermine the school’s important mission to discourage drug use. (Limited freedom)
  10. Norwell v. City of Cincinnati, 1973.  Cincinnati’s disorderly conduct ordinance operated to deprive petitioner of his constitutionally protected freedom of speech, where it appeared that he was arrested and convicted merely because he verbally and negatively protested the arresting officer’s treatment of him, and there was no use of abusive language or fighting words. (Expanded freedom)
  11. R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 1992.  Several teenagers allegedly burned a crudely fashioned cross on a black family’s lawn. The police charged one of the teens under a local bias-motivated criminal ordinance which prohibits the display of a symbol which “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.”  the justices held the ordinance invalid on its face because “it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses.” The First Amendment prevents government from punishing speech and expressive conduct because it disapproves of the ideas expressed. Under the ordinance, for example, one could hold up a sign declaring all anti-semites are bastards but not that all Jews are bastards. Government has no authority “to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow the Marquis of Queensbury Rules.” (Expanded freedom)
  12. Radich v. New York, 1974.  The petitioner, Stephen Radich, was convicted in the Criminal Court of the City of New York of casting contempt on the American flag.  His gallery certain “constructions”, comparable to sculptures, which had been created by an artist named Marc Morrel. These constructions were partly composed of United States flags or portions thereof, and partly of other objects including a Vietcong flag, a Russian flag, a Nazi swastika and a gas mask.  The court ruled that New York served to deprive him of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (Expanded freedom)
  13. Schacht v. United States, 1970; the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a conviction for the unauthorized wearing of a military uniform at an outdoor performance, stating that the performance was within the definition of “theatrical production.” The Court held the statute unconstitutional because it provided that an actor “was free to participate in any skit at the demonstration that praised the Army, but . . . could be convicted of a federal offense if his portrayal attacked the Army instead of praising it… which leaves Americans free to praise the war in Vietnam but can send persons like Schacht to prison for opposing it, cannot survive in a country which has the First Amendment,” (Expanded freedom)
  14. Spence v. Washington, 1974.  Harold Omand Spence displayed an American flag with a peace symbol made out of removable tape on it outside of his home in Seattle, WA. When officers came to his house he offered to take the flag down, but was arrested, charged, and convicted under a Washington statute that forbade the display of an American flag to which figures symbols or other extraneous material is attached or superimposed.  The Supreme Court held that that statute, as applied, violated the First Amendment right to free speech.  Spence’s display was symbolic speech entitled to constitutional protection.(Expanded freedom)
  15. Texas v. Johnson, 1989.  In front of the Dallas City Hall, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag as a means of protest against Reagan administration policies.  Johnson was tried and convicted under a Texas law outlawing flag desecration.   the Court held that Johnson’s burning of a flag was protected expression under the First Amendment.  The Court found that Johnson’s actions fell into the category of expressive conduct and had a distinctively political nature.  The fact that an audience takes offense to certain ideas or expression, the Court found, does not justify prohibitions of speech.(Expanded freedom)
  16. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1968.  A group of students in Des Moines held a meeting in the home of 16-year-old Christopher Eckhardt to plan a public showing of their support for a truce in the Vietnam war. They decided to wear black armbands throughout the holiday season and to fast on December 16 and New Year’s Eve.  the Des Moines school learned of the plan and met on December 14 to create a policy that stated that any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, with refusal to do so resulting in suspension.  he Supreme Court held that the armbands represented pure speech that is entirely separate from the actions or conduct of those participating in it. The Court also held that the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property. (Expanded freedom)
  17. United States v. Eichman, 1990.  Congress passed the Flag Protection Act which made it a crime to destroy an American flag or any likeness of an American flag which may be “commonly displayed.” The law did, however, allow proper disposal of a worn or soiled flag. Several prosecutions resulted from the Act. Eichman set a flag ablaze on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while protesting the government’s domestic and foreign policy.   The Court struck down the law because “its asserted interest is related to the suppression of free expression and concerned with the content of such expression.” Allowing the flag to be burned in a disposal ceremony but prohibiting protestors from setting it ablaze at a political protest made that clear, argued Justice Brennan in one of his final opinions. (Expanded freedom)
  18. United States v. O’Brien, 1968.  David O’Brien burned his draft card at a Boston courthouse. He said he was expressing his opposition to war. He was convicted under a federal law that made the destruction or mutilation of drafts card a crime.  Established a test to determine whether governmental regulation involving symbolic speech was justified. The formula examines whether the regulation is unrelated to content and narrowly tailored to achieve the government’s interest. The court ruled “a government regulation is sufficiently justified if it is within the constitutional power of the Government; if it furthers an important or substantial governmental interest; if the governmental interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression; and if the incidential restriction on alleged First Amendment freedoms is not greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest.”(Limited freedom)
  19. Virginia v. Black, 2003.  Barry Black, Richard Elliott, and Jonathan O’Mara were convicted separately of violating a Virginia statute that makes it a felony “for any person…, with the intent of intimidating any person or group…, to burn…a cross on the property of another, a highway or other public place,” and specifies that “any such burning…shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate a person or group.”  the Court held that while a State, consistent with the First Amendment, may ban cross burning carried out with the intent to intimidate, in which four other justices joined, the provision in the Virginia statute treating any cross burning as prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate renders the statute unconstitutional in its current form, in which three other justices joined.  (Limited freedom)

Behavior at Protests

  1. City of Houston v. Hill, 1987Upon shouting at police in an attempt to divert their attention from his friend during a confrontation, appellee was arrested for “willfully . . . interrupt[ing] a city policeman . . . by verbal challenge during an investigation” in violation of a municipal ordinance making it unlawful for any person “to assault, strike or in any manner oppose, molest, abuse or interrupt any policeman in the execution of his duty.”  The District Court held that the ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad on its face, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the ordinance was substantially overbroad, since its literal wording punished and might deter a significant range of protected speech. (Expanded freedom)
  2. Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 1984.  The demonstrators wished to sleep in tent cities set up in the park. Citing anti-camping regulations, the Park Service denied the request.  the Court held that the regulations did not violate the First Amendment. The Court noted that expression is subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, and that the manner of the protest was at odds with the government’s interest in maintaining the condition of the parks.  (Limited freedom)
  3. Colten v. Kentucky, 1972.  Appellant, arrested for disorderly conduct when he failed, notwithstanding several requests by an officer, to leave a congested roadside where a friend in another car was being ticketed for a traffic offense.  The disorderly conduct statute was not unconstitutionally applied, there having been ample evidence that the action of appellant, who had no constitutional right to observe the ticketing process or engage the issuing officer in conversation, was interfering with enforcement of traffic laws.  (Limited freedom)
  4. FTC v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association, 1989A group of lawyers in private practice who regularly acted as court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants in District of Columbia criminal cases agreed to stop providing such representation until the District increased group members’ compensation.  Respondents’ boycott constituted a horizontal arrangement among competitors that was unquestionably a naked restraint of price and output in violation of the antitrust laws.  (Limited freedom)
  5. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 1972.  Anti-picketing ordinance, virtually identical with one invalidated as violative of equal protection in Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, ante, p. 408 U. S. 92, is likewise invalid. P. 408 U. S. 107.  Anti-noise ordinance prohibiting a person while on grounds adjacent to a building in which a school is in session from willfully making a noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of the school session is not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. The ordinance is not vague, since, with fair warning, it prohibits only actual or imminent, and willful, interference with normal school activity, and is not a broad invitation to discriminatory enforcement. Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536; Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U. S. 611, distinguished.  The ordinance is not overbroad as unduly interfering with First Amendment rights since expressive activity is prohibited only if it “materially disrupts classwork.” Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U. S. 503, 393 U. S. 513. Pp. 408 U. S. 107-121. (Limited freedom)
  6. Gregory v. City of Chicago, 1969. Conducted a three-and-a-half-hour march from the Loop District to the South Side neighborhood where the mayor lived. They were escorted by more than 40 police officers and an assistant city attorney.  The crowd of spectators began to grow unruly, spewing racial epithets and hailing eggs and rocks at the demonstrators.  The police asked Gregory and his group to leave the scene.  When they refused they were arrested and later convicted on charges of disorderly conduct.  They argued that disruptive bystanders in effect had exercised a “heckler’s veto” by provoking violence, prompting the police action against those assembling peacefully.  The court, considering the petitioners’ march was “peaceful and orderly” and therefore worthy of First Amendment protection. The charges of disorderly conduct were misapplied and stood in violation of due process per Thompson v. City of Louisville (1960).  A Justice criticized the disorderly conduct law itself, labeling it a “meat-ax ordinance” because it prohibited many lawful and constitutional activities. It was neither “narrowly drawn” to regulate demonstrations and marches, nor did it set forth time, place, and manner restrictions. Black observed that the police officers had applied the law hypocritically since they had found no unlawful conduct by the demonstrators along the entire five-mile march. (Expanded freedom)
  7. Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 1974.  City ordinances stated “It shall be unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.” the Court, ruling that the law at issue had been overly broad in that it associated all use of “obscene or opprobrious language” directed to police officers as a form of fighting words.  The law did not adequately define “opprobrious” words or limit them to those typically associated with “fighting words,” which tended to “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” (Expanded freedom)
  8. NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 1982.  A boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Miss., was launched at a meeting of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attended by several hundred black persons.  The boycott was largely supported by speeches encouraging nonparticipants to join the common cause and by nonviolent picketing, but some acts and threats of violence did occur.  Merchants filed suit in Mississippi Chancery Court for injunctive relief and damages against petitioners.  The court held the nonviolent elements of petitioners’ activities are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.  Petitioners are not liable in damages for the consequences of their nonviolent, protected activity.  The First Amendment restricts the ability of the State to impose liability on an individual solely because of his association with another. (Expanded freedom)
  9. Snyder v. Phelps, 2010.  The family of deceased Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder filed a lawsuit against members of the Westboro Baptist Church who picketed at his funeral.   The Court held that the First Amendment shields those who stage a protest at the funeral of a military service member from liability.  (Expanded freedom)

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