A nationally-known civil rights group and other free speech watchdog groups are challenging a Georgia law that has been used to limit protesting, specifically at the capitol building in Atlanta. The law has been used to arrest even state lawmakers who were participating in a demonstration on the capitol’s grounds.
The Georgia Supreme Court is currently reviewing the statute to determine if it runs afoul of the First Amendment or free speech protections guaranteed under Georgia’s laws.
Broadly speaking, the law prohibits people from disrupting the business of the Georgia Legislature. However, it is the details of the law’s language which is at issue.
Critics of the law say that the statute, as written, allows police and prosecutors to charge people with crimes simply for being at the capitol building and making their views known.
The critics point out that people have a right to state their views, even if the way in which they do it is likely to provoke strong feelings or controversy.
Interestingly, no criminal charges were ultimately filed following the incident that set this case in motion.
Officers used the controversial law to arrest several people, but prosecuting authorities declined to pursue the matter further, saying that they were allowing the arrest itself to serve as the punishment.
In a separate suit, those detained are now claiming that their arrests were illegitimate since the law used to arrest them was not constitutional.
College students have free speech rights to make their views known
The outcome of the pending court case may be of interest to University of Georgia students who are active in promoting social change.
These students should remember that they have broad freedom to make their views known even when doing so involves protesting in a way that others, especially police, find distasteful.
Too often, charges related to disorderly conduct or other offenses are used to prevent lawful protesting. Students in others in the Athens area who face charges of this nature should evaluate their legal options carefully.