Demonstrations and Free Speech

Protestors! You have every right to:

  • Peacefully assemble to exercise your First Amendment right to protest.
  • Protest in “public forums” such as streets, sidewalks, and parks.
    • But private property owners can set rules for speech on their property.
    • The government can place narrowly drawn “time, place and manner” restrictions on the exercise of First Amendment rights — for example, permit requirements for large groups using public parks or limits on the loudness of sound amplifiers.
  • Some events require permits. For example, you may need a permit for:
    • A march that will block traffic or close streets;
    • A rally that uses amplifiers; or
    • Group demonstrations at certain parks or plazas.
  • Distribute literature, chant, hold signs, and engage passersby in public spaces without a permit.
  • Photograph or videotape the police in public space.
  • Your speech cannot be restricted based on content

The following activities are not protected: endangering or harming others; blocking building entrances, traffic, or pedestrians on the sidewalk; and disobeying laws. Civil disobedience (violating the law to make a political statement) is not protected speech and can lead to arrest.

 

Abortion protesters

Protest rights Q&A.
Q&A: specific protest activities.
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  • Can a demonstrator distribute literature? Yes. Distributing literature in public places is legal without a permit.
  • Can a demonstrator put a table on a public sidewalk? Probably not without a special permit, particularly if it blocks pedestrian traffic.
  • Can a demonstrator use chalk on a public sidewalk? Probably. No law prohibits chalking public property.
  • Can a demonstrator use speakers or other sound amplifiers, such as a bullhorn? Probably not without a permit.
  • Can demonstrators wear a mask as part of their protest? Yes, but an officer may require them to provide identifying information (like their name, address, and date of birth) if they are suspected of having committed or witnessed a crime. However, they do not need to show identification. If you do not provide the requested information, you may be subject to arrest.

Q&A: “Occupying” public spaces and buildings.
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  • Can a demonstrator hold an overnight demonstration in a park? No. But other public areas, like sidewalks, are usually open 24 hours.
  • Can a demonstrator sleep on the sidewalk? Probably not. Similar to setting up tables, sleeping on the sidewalk would illegally block pedestrian traffic.
  • Can a demonstrator remain inside a closed public building? No, this is trespassing.

 

Rights of Protesters