A few weeks ago I wrote Congressman Rick Berg to express my concerns about the passage of H.R. 347. I did this knowing I would probably get some standard form letter response back about how this doesn’t restrict free speech and how important it is to protect our elected leaders. Below is the email I sent the Congressman Berg on this matter.
I’m contacting you in regards to your recent vote on H.R. 347. As you know this bill was signed into law by President Obama on 8 March 2012 after it overwhelmingly passed the House with bipartisan support. It’s now the law of the land and we’re stuck with it until it’s challenged in the courts. The omission of the word willfully not only gives federal agents sweeping new powers to suppress protests, it also nullifies intent and in my opinion creates an environment that directly threatens one our most sacred rights; freedom of speech. The bill allows secret service agents to decide where free speech is permitted and where it is not. Please explain to me where the source of this power comes from that permits congress to make a law that does exactly what the first amendment of our constitution prohibits.
The first amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
How can the people petition the government for a redress of grievances under the umbrella of this law? By voting yes to pass this bill you have acted in a manner that abridges the right of the people to freedom of speech even if it does so indirectly. Our founders did not want to insulate our politicians from the people. They wanted them close to the people. They knew that in order for the republic to work, robust debate and free speech without fear of reprisal from their government was the cornerstone of a free republic. In fact George Washington once said, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” Your first act when the 112th was sworn in was to read the constitution aloud on the House floor. You promised to find the constitutional authority in the bills congress crafted and yet you voted yes for a bill that violates one of most sacred rights protected by our constitution. How can you swear to support and defend the constitution and then shred the same document with this legislation? The act of reading the constitution aloud on the House floor now appears empty and nothing more than a gimmick.
I understand the need to protect our President, Vice President, and families of both against potential threats; their safety is paramount. However we shouldn’t sacrifice liberty to accomplish this task. This is why great care must be exercised whenever crafting legislation to protect our elected officials. The constitution must always be in the forefront when we debate legislation because the constitution protects the rights of all Americans to include you. Once liberty is lost it’s hard to gain it back again and I don’t believe this is the America we want to leave for our children. We want our children to enjoy the same liberties and freedom generations of Americans enjoyed before them. We want them to have the same rights our grandparents had and it’s up to us to ensure this happens.
You are now running for Senate in one of the most conservative states in America. Many of my friends are asking the same questions as me; why would he vote to limit free speech if he swore to support and defend the constitution? These are votes you’re going to have to earn and your votes are a matter of public record. The constitution still matters to many of us sir and more and more people are starting to dig into it. They’re starting to wake up and see what you and your colleagues are doing to it. And they do not like what they’re seeing. Please remember your oath and consider these words the next time you vote on a piece of legislation.
Here is his response.
Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
As you may know, H.R. 347 would clarify the law regarding persons entering restricted areas, but does not create any new crimes or outlaw any actions that are currently legal. The purpose of this bill is to allow the Secret Service to better protect American and foreign leaders; it extends restricted area status to the grounds of the White House and includes provisions for temporary restriction of areas. For instance, when the President is visiting a city for a few days, his residence there was not formerly defined as a restricted area, but his safety is no less important than when he is in a federal building.
Some people have expressed concerns that H.R. 347 was aimed at Occupy Wall Street protestors, or that it will quietly take away the freedom of speech, but that is not the goal of this legislation. A version of this bill actually passed the House of Representatives back in 2010, and its goal is to better protect our leaders and the work of our government.
H.R. 347 had extremely strong bipartisan support-in fact, it passed the House of Representatives in February with a vote of 399-3, and it passed the Senate unanimously. It will not outlaw protesting, and it is aimed only at those whose intent in entering a restricted area is to cause harm or disruption of government, not at those who simply want to express their opinion. I believe freedom of speech is of the utmost importance, and the right of Americans to speak out against actions they do not agree with will continue to promote positive change in our nation.
Again, thank you for contacting me on this very important issue. It is an honor to represent North Dakota in Congress, and I never forget that I work for you and the people of our great state. If you have any additional thoughts or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at my Fargo, Bismarck, Minot or Washington, D.C. office.
Note the two areas in the letter I made bold. I wanted to highlight these areas because I believe it’s important to point something out. Of course the “goal” is not to restrict free speech, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen under this law. Yes their intent is not to limit free speech but the way the law is written that’s exactly what they can do. The second area is about strong bipartisan support. Just because you have overwhelming bipartisan support doesn’t make the bill constitutional. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus had overwhelming support from the Roman Senate in regards to the reforms he wanted to implement for the republic. His reforms fundamentally transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire and made the Senate irrelevant. Overwhelming or strong support does not impress me. What impresses me are elected officials who keep their oath to support and defend our constitution. I don’t feel that’s an unreasonable request. I will keep fighting to defend our liberties even if I get back 1,000 form letters.
Liberty forever, freedom for all!