Legislation which would criminalize freedom of speech and assembly by prohibiting camping on non-residential public property could be heard as early as this week on both the House and Senate Floors.
Not coincidentally, camping is the very means by which the Occupy Nashville protesters on Legislative Plaza have chosen to express their frustration with government. The proposed penalty is a jail sentence up to eleven months and twenty-nine days or a fine up to $2500.
“It sounds like what we’ve got is a specific law designed to criminalize speech by a particular group of people right here in the United States of America,” said Rep. Mike Stewart during debates last week.
He continued, “…Our tradition of free speech is probably the greatest gift that our country has bestowed upon the world and the world looks to us to be a bastion of freedom. And we can say what we want about this bill but the effect…is to take a peaceful protest and make it a criminal act.”
This legislation chills the spirit of freedom of speech and assembly by targeting a particular form of expression. Please tell your state legislators that criminalizing this form of speech and expression is wrong.
Not only is this bill overreaching, it is unnecessary. While some claim it addresses public health and safety issues, existing laws already protect against creating a health hazard or threatening safety or welfare on public property. The only thing passage of this legislation will do is to chill freedom of speech and expression.
Thank you for speaking up to protect our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.