A news article in the Christian Science Monitor last week was headlined: AZ: Inspired by Trump, new state law redefines free speech. Naturally, as a lifelong devotee of the First Amendment, I was curious to find out exactly what this was all about so I clicked on the hyperlink in the RRND to read the full story.
The headline implied that Donald Trump somehow manipulated the Arizona legislature into passing a law redefining the meaning of free speech. Of course, if that were true, such a law would be unconstitutional.
But (as is too often the case with the news media) the editor who wrote that headline was only demonstrating his ignorance of First Amendment law. Instead of redefining the meaning of free speech, the new Arizona law would penalize those attempting to deny others their First Amendment rights.
Yes, the law was inspired as it were by a Trump campaign event in a Phoenix suburb where a bunch of protesters had parked about two-dozen cars in the middle of a highway affording Trump supporters their only access to the event.
The protesters displayed signs saying: “Dump Trump,” and “Must Stop Trump,” which, of course, was a perfectly permissible expression of their First Amendment rights, however, the conduct of blocking a public highway to prevent others access to a campaign event had nothing to do with exercising free speech. Blocking a highway, if intended as a means of expression is not protected speech.
It’s a crime.
I saw the televised news accounts of the incident and was disgusted with the anti-Trump protestors for their outrageous conduct. The cops had every right to arrest the culprits and haul their vehicles off the highway to be impounded. It was this occurrence which “inspired” the new law which increases penalties on protestors who block traffic to political events.
"That hopefully will create a deterrent for people intruding on others' abilities…There's a balance here of everyone getting their voice heard… If someone is physically preventing someone from participating in exercising their constitutional rights, that is unacceptable," explained a government spokesman.
The new law addresses two objects. On the one hand it increases the penalty for anyone found to have intentionally blocked traffic for access to a political campaign event or government meeting or hearing to a six-month jail sentence. It also prevents state universities and community colleges from limiting where free speech can be exercised. In short, the law prohibits so-called "free speech" zones on college campuses, which attempt to confine constitutional free speech activities of students.
The bottom line is that protesters have First Amendment free speech rights; they have the right to protest; but they do not enjoy the right to deny others the right to free assembly and free speech. The new Arizona law in no way re-defines free speech – on the contrary, it enhances the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and assembly.
Blocking a highway is not protected free speech.