Is the Govt. obliged to PROTECT citizens exercising free speech/assembly?

Let’s take, for instance, the war protestors in NYC, or a KKK march. Is the govt. (Fed/State/Local) obliged to send in police, etc., to try to protect said citizens from other citizens who disagree violently with their viewpoints? Obviously, at a certain point it’s just an issue of keeping the peace and preventing assaults, etc., which they would do for any crowd, but can the city say, “You can have your controversial rally, but we’re not going to commit any manpower to keep your butts from getting kicked” ?

(This may just be a GQ…but seems liable to spark GD.)

I suspect that if they provide protection on assistance for some groups, then they need to do it for all groups. No picking and choosing.

I would hope so. Otherwise the Constitution is just a piece of paper.

The Government is proscribed from making laws infringing the right to peacably assemble.

They are not obliged to protect folks from peaceful counterdemonstrations, however loud they might be.

But violence is not a matter of constitutional protection–it’s a matter of law. Assault is illegal, and governments have an obligation to protect citizens from being assaulted, regardless of the cause.

But the government cannot pick and choose which demonstrations to protect. If a group gets a legal parade permit (or whatever they need) the gov’t should treat them exactly as they treat any other group.

Do you see police protection for the Columbus Day Parade? If so, the anti-war demonstrators must get the same. To do otherwise is a tacit endorsement of one group by the gov’t, and that’s not allowed.


Not necessarily the “same” The number of cops for security at a huge event like a parade, does not have to equal the number at a minor event like a small anti-was demonstration. They just have to have enough to stop violence.

Hamlet, correct. I didn’t mean to imply that you needed the same number of police at every parade/demonstration/speech.

And re-reading andros’ reply, I agree there is no guarentee of any protection against peaceful protest. But if the authorities have reason to believe that violence will erupt (such as at a KKK rally or an anti-war demonstration today) I do think the have a legal obligation to provide protection.


So I guess the govt’s way out is to deny a permit for said parade/rally if they honestly feel that they can’t provide enough security.

i.e., a small town might be able to muster enough police to protect the Girl Scout Pumpkin Harvest Parade, but not enough to keep the Klan safe from angry counter-demonstrators, and could thus deny such a permit.

I guess the question of infringing rights comes up with the denial of permits, then–I seem to recall Rudy Giuliani got some heat a few years ago for not allowing a group of young black men to march here in NYC for fear of violence.

toadspittle, you guess very well here:

There exists a significant body of Constitutional cases dealing with such permits and the procedures to obtain them. Unfortunately, I have grown too lazy to search for these cases.

One day in Edinburgh, I heard a ruckus coming down the street. I looked out to see police on horses and several rows of officers walking 4 abreast in the street. Other officers walked on the sidewalk. Behind the officers, were a group carrying banners and banging clubs. On either side of this group walked a single file line of officers. Behind this group were a few more rows of officers followed by two police vans. Somewhere in the middle of this police parade, was a small bad of people, seemingly from Glasgow, apparently marching in support of the IRA. That was some police protection/