1st Amendment and Protesting: What You Need to Know


Dani Gonzalez

University Preparatory Alumni Katherine Jensen is holding a Black Lives Matter poster in preparation for protest, titled, “Caravan for Unity.” It was an anti-MAGA (Make America Great Again) event on September 14, 2020 at Spring Valley Lake.

Caitlynn Kelley, Journalist and Editor

These are some of the counter protesters at the Caravan for Unity event at Spring Valley Lake on September 14, 2020. The Caravan for Unity was made in response to the Trump boat parade, which was on September 10, 2020. Various people are holding Trump and Confederate Flags. (Dani Gonzalez)

The First Amendment has been the cornerstone of the United States since its founding. Many cases have been filed, lawsuits have been settled, and so on due to what it does and does not cover, such as our right to protest, right to peaceably assemble, freedom of religion, etc. In light of all that is happening in our world today, our 1st Amendment rights are more important than ever.

Sophomore Madelyn Jensen states what she knows about the 1st Amendment, “Yes. It covers our right to freedom of speech (aka to protest).”

Freshman Alisa Rajha details some facts about the 1st Amendment, “It protects the freedom of speech, religion and the press.

Freshman Madison Porter lists some examples of what is covered under the 1st Amendment, “I know it is the right to exercise your religion freely, freedom of speech, and the freedom of press.”

Jensen gives her knowledge on how the 1st amendment plays a role in how we protest, “It allows us to be able to protest and have our voice be heard.

Rajha states how the 1st Amendment affects how we protest, “As long as I’m not physically harassing or hurting anyone, I can let my voice be heard.”

On protesting and what is considered to be under the 1st Amendment, Porter states, “As long as you’re peaceful, you are being constitutional.”

An event titled, “Commitment March: Get Your Feet From Our Necks,” was held on August 28, 2020. It commemorates Martin Luther King Jr’s Speech on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Al Sharpton, a minister and an activist, held the rally with his organization, NAN (National Action Network), and other companies sponsored the Commitment March. The title comes from how a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for around 8 minutes. The event focused on criminal justice reform, police brutality, police accountability, and energizing voters for upcoming senatorial or presidential elections.

Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter, gave advice to young activists. Yolanda stated how this generation will be able to achieve MLK’s dream of equality for all.

Other speakers talked about how America is still dealing with topics that MLK focused on, legislation that needs to be passed, America needing to address its racism, and so on.

The events that sparked the commemoration of the March on Washington rolled out during the summer of 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence again due to several killings of unarmed Black people at the hands of police officers. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. Jacob Blake, and George Floyd are some of the more well known cases. 

There has been controversy on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the police officers on the protesters. Journalists and protesters have been injured due to the usage of these riot control weapons. 

Gustavo Martinez, a reporter, was reporting on how police officers were using police force against two young protesters that were screaming on the footage that Martinez had recorded. In Martinez’s complaint, while he was recording with his phone on what was happening, the police turned their attention on to him. An officer tackled him and slapped his phone out of his hand. When Martinez told the officers that he was a journalist, one officer allegedly told Martinez to “shut his mouth.”

The charges that were held against Martinez were dropped. He wants the city of Belmar,  New Jersey to recognize that his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated.

CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez was covering the violent protests in Minneapolis. Omar Jimenez and his crew asked the police officers where to stand and then they arrested him and his crew.  Fox News and MSNBC both came out in support of CNN. Fox News stated how they are in support of the 1st Amendment and they denounced the arrests of Jimenez and his crew. 

Los Angeles based reporter Josie Huang was another journalist that was arrested by police officers. Huang was investigating the shooting of two sheriffs in Compton, California. She was standing in front of the St. Francis Medical Center, where the sheriffs were being treated. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) tackled and arrested her. In the LAPD police report, it states that Huang didn’t identify herself as a journalist when she was in front of the hospital doors and when police asked the protesters to leave the area. However, a video was released that contradicted their transcript. It shows that Huang’s press credentials were on her neck at the time of her arrest.

Madelyn Jensen details her experiences at the protests she’s been to, “I participated in 3 of the BLM protests, and I’ve done a March for our Lives protest after a major school shooting. The most major thing that happened at either of the protests was just people who were against our views shouting rude things. The guidelines were to just stay positive and as peaceful as possible; if someone was trying to start something, you need[ed] to get away from them so you [didn’t] get into trouble.”

Jensen continues, “A few of my friends participated in the same [protests] I went to and all the rules were the same. 

Alisa Rajha talks about how she can’t attend any protests, “As much as I want to go out in the world and protest for all these causes that I believe in, I am currently unable to.”

On attending protests, Madison Porter states, “No, I never went to or had the desire to go to a protest.”

The US Supreme Court has failed to take part in a right to peaceably assemble case for around  30 or more years. This means protesters and journalists are still not protected from police retaliation. The Supreme Court held back that protesting in the streets wasn’t covered under the right to assemble. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1st Amendment protected the right to lobby or form a political organization to address government. 

Madelyn details why she thinks the police response to protests has been harsh, “Although we are using our first amendment rights, the officers want to silence us because they feel ‘threatened by our presence.”

Porter believes that the lack of Supreme Court ruling on the right to peaceably assemble hasn’t affected Law Enforcement’s response.

Rajha states that the usage of riot control weapons (rubber bullets and tear gas) on protesters is unreasonable, “Yes. I believe that the governments lack of knowledge and readiness in a situation like this is causing them to panic in a way that is unacceptable. Using methods like rubber bullets and tear gas will hurt the U.S. citizens therefore making them lose all trust and respect in the government, ergo, the future downfall of the U.S. Government.”

Representative Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a conference on how the vicious behavior of the police towards journalists and protesters have violated their 1st Amendment rights. 

Before protesting, protesters must know the US government’s rules and regulations. The US government can only make narrow rules prohibiting what the protesters are allowed to say or do. If the US government makes a rule on free speech, it has to apply to all different topics. Violence is prohibited. Those who loot or vandalize can be arrested, since they are creating chaos.

The bringing in of the National Guard to Black Lives Matter protests has created an alarming atmosphere for one of the tenets in the First Amendment, the right to peaceably assemble. J.D. Candidate from College of William and Mary, Ashley M. Eick, stated that the US needs to prove that there is a present form of danger before stationing military forces. 

In the City of Los Angeles, there was a protest that started off as peaceful in Fairfax, but quickly turned violent. The Apple Store and Nordstorm were some of the stores that were looted at The Grove, an outdoor mall. A Starbucks was set on fire and other stores were pillaged. Protesters vandalized stores and threw rocks at the police. This prompted the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, to call in the National Guard, which was quickly criticized by local government officials. 

61 percent of Americans live in states where there is approved legislation acknowledging the 1st Amendment right of those who record police officers doing their jobs. One of the major reasons why deaths of African Americans by police officers have been spread is through videos on social media. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of several cases of journalists and private citizens recording police officers and their duties. However, police officers are able to disperse crowds under certain circumstances. For example, if the person recording the police officer is making a demand for the crowd to disperse or if the person recording is doing so while under curfew. 

Jensen states whether she believes that taking a video of police brutality should be covered under the 1st Amendment, “Taking a video of police brutality is covered because it is another way to spread your message and prove your point. Honestly I believe the supreme is kind of racist and homophobic, and there are some justices who believe that the police should do what ever is necessary to control the crowds.” 

Porter believes that Americans shouldn’t be allowed to take footage of police officers and be able to use it against them, “I think they have not ruled on it yet because you can rule on it correctly both ways. Although,  I think you should not be able to record a police arrest and use it against them.”

If recording police officers should be covered under the 1st Amendment, Alisa Rajha says, “Yes. Taking video proof of police failures is a form of protest and shows a need for change. By seeing the police abusing their power right in front of one’s eyes will cause a bigger storm of protesters. I believe the Supreme Court doesn’t want more protesters so they don’t want more videos to be taken. (this is just a theory, of course).”

The 1st Amendment has been able to help or hinder cases during significant times.

Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the 1st Amendment was important for ministers, newspapers, activists,  and so on to be able to get their message out for equality for African Americans. In a case titled New York Times co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that public officials couldn’t get compensation from newspapers, unless they published stories that had malicious intentions. This allowed the press to report on Civil Rights abuses. Journalist Andrew Lewis argued that this ruling saved the Civil Rights Movement.

Jensen states the negative implications that the First Amendment has, “The First Amendment makes it possible for people to protest and has played a big role throughout history. I believe that the first amendment makes it more acceptable for people to spread false information just to go against others.”

On how the 1st Amendment helped the Civil Rights movement in a groundbreaking case, Porter says, “I feel they made the right decision and I think they were using their freedom of press.”

During the 1970s and the 1980s, the Feminist Movement gained prominence and challenged the rights held in the 1st Amendment. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon, Feminist academics,  both debated to the City of Indianapolis that pornography eroticizes women’s submission to men and makes them sexual objects. They argued that this creates harm to women. This argument to Indianapolis made many feminists question the role of freedom of speech and the sexualization of women’s bodies. The City of Indianapolis ruled in Dworkin and Mackinnon’s favor, but the ruling was quickly challenged. Dworkin and Mackinnon’s argument relied on how obscene the speech was. Many feminists and civil liberties activists argued that the speech should still take place, even if it is derogatory speech. 

Madelyn Jensen states that the 1st Amendment can be used to help spread messages and gain support for different points of view.

Porter believes that pornography should be prohibited, “I feel that porn shouldn’t be allowed. The First Amendment helped them and hurt them in many ways.”

For the LGBTQ+ community, the Supreme Court protected the right for queer people to be able to be able to assemble into groups to figure out and express their identities. After homosexual marriage was legalized in the Supreme Court, many of the cases focused on the LGBTQ+ person’s parents status or background, but did not explore differences or challenges that a lot of queer people face. However, later on, the Supreme Courts began to recognize that queer people have the right to organize to be able to express their beliefs. 

Madelyn Jensen comments and gives her opinion on current LGBTQ+ events and why she is passionate about learning about them, “I know that America didn’t pass a law to legalize gay marriage until 2015, and I know that earlier this year it was made illegal for companies to fire an employee because of their sexuality (it disgusts me that these are pretty recent changes that should have just been common sense and figured out a lot sooner). I’m not in the GSA group,  but I do have a lot of friends who are in the LGBTQ+ community. I do a lot of research so I can have all the correct facts.”

The 1st Amendment has also helped Environmental activists. A Texas oil and gas exploration firm, SG Interests, sued Peter Kolbenschlag for writing a comment underneath a news article, criticizing SG Interests. SG Interests sued Kolbenschlag with a SLAPP law. SLAPP laws are meant to silence critics that are using their 1st Amendment to free speech or to petition against the government by bringing them to court. 

Jensen gives her view on SLAPP laws, “I think it’s wrong for companies to use SLAPP. All states in my opinion should have anti-SLAPP laws because it’s a cruel way to silence someone.” 

Rajha believes that SLAPP laws violate the 1st Amendment, “I believe that all states should have an anti-SLAPP law. By having SLAPP, our 1st amendment rights are being taken away.”

On SLAPP laws, Porter states, “I don’t agree with companies using SLAPP and I think no US states should allow SLAPP because they are taking a customers right of speech.”

Knowing what the 1st Amendment covers and the cases that center around it helps Americans to figure out if their speech is protected or not. It is essential, especially right now, to know your rights under the 1st Amendment.