“Congress shall make no law…” Most Americans can quote that line from the First Amendment, as that amendment to the constitution encompasses the most basic liberties we hold near and dear in the United States, but what is really guaranteed and protected by this amendment, and where is the line when it comes to our right to peaceable assembly?
While there are some blurred lines and varied interpretations of our First Amendment right to assemble peaceably to express our beliefs, there are some pretty firm rules concerning this amendment in the State of Texas.
No matter your political leanings, we all need to be aware of our rights and the laws concerning those rights if we decide to exercise our right to free speech and peaceable assembly. To that end, it’s also incredibly important to understand how to avoid a riot and avoid being criminally liable should you end up being involved with a riot. To better understand what is allowed in protesting, we need to know what is not permissible; so, let’s dive in to four laws concerning peaceable assembly in the State of Texas.
- So, what exactly is disorderly?
The laundry list of actions or activities covered under disorderly conduct is quite broad, to say the least, but there are a few big standouts for violations deemed as disorderly conduct:
- Watch your language – Engaging in any type of language, obscene gestures, or physical and furtive movements designed to incite a breach of the peace is considered to be a violation.
- Nix the tactical tools – In Texas, especially, we’re proud of our right to carry firearms. You’re well within your rights to carry; however, presenting a gun in a way that instills fear of safety if you use it in a manner that interferes with others’ civil liberties, you’re looking at criminal charges. While responsibly carrying your firearm for protection is acceptable, you’ll need to leave any smoke bombs at home.
- Location! Location! Location! – Time restrictions and permits to peacefully assemble are common sense when planning to protest, but did you know there are definite restrictions on where you can peacefully protest? Gathering at a funeral with intention to protest is strictly prohibited, as is peaceable assembly near critical infrastructure, which includes pipelines, natural gas, and oil. In order to obstruct a road or highway with your assembly, you’ll need one of those permits I mentioned.
2. What’s on the books about riots?
In the State of Texas, riots are specifically defined in our penal code as seven+ people gathered and engaged in an activity that is absolutely designed to or results in prohibiting others from engaging in their civil liberties. “Your rights end where mine begin” is an adage on which we rely in the U.S., and respecting the rights of others is just as important as asserting your own rights. Always remember that when your passions and emotions run high enough to take a stance.
3. You have an out!
So, you’re aware of others’ rights, and you know what not to do when you protest, but what happens if other protestors aren’t aware of the restrictions on riots and you inadvertently end up in a riot instead of a peaceful protest? It can happen in what seems like an instant, but the good news is that you have a way out of being held criminally liable should you end up in a riot without intending to be. Your “get out of jail free” card comes in knowing that the police need to first give you the opportunity to remedy the situation and remove yourself from destructive or intrusive action before they can arrest you.
4. Watch your step!
In the State of Texas, it’s very clear under the code that you are not allowed to disrupt in any way, shape, form, or fashion a lawful meeting. What does that mean? It means you’re completely covered by the First Amendment to peacefully protest outside of a city council meeting or beyond the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol during an active session, but you are not permitted to protest with the sole purpose and design of stopping the governmental function. So, feel free to stand your ground, but make sure the ground on which you stand is outside of and in no way interrupts a lawful event.
These are just a few takeaways to consider before stepping out and standing up for what you believe, especially in the current heated political climate. If you have any questions about your rights or need to consult an experienced advocate to guide you through your defense, we’d love to help. Please tune in to our updates every Wednesday, and follow us on social media for up-to-date information concerning your rights and how we can fight on your behalf.