The Ways You Can Break the Law by Protesting
The First Amendment isn’t all-encompassing when assembling in GeorgiaBy S.M. Oliva | Last updated on January 12, 2023
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Local Event Permitting LawsFor example, if you want to organize a protest in public spaces within the city of Atlanta, you may need to get an event permit from local officials first. Atlanta requires such permits for marches, rallies, and parades that meet any two of the following three criteria:
- The event is expected to involve 75 or more people;
- The event will travel for more than two blocks on city streets; and/or
- The “moving portion” of the event is expected to last more than one hour.
Georgia’s Anti-Mask ActEven where a protest itself is lawful, individual protesters may still run afoul of “time, place and manner” restrictions imposed by local law. One of the more notable restrictions in Georgia is the Anti-Mask Act, which makes it a misdemeanor to wear a “mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer” while on a public road or other public property. Although the Georgia legislature adopted the Anti-Mask Act in the 1950s to address the specific problem of hooded Ku Klux Klan demonstrators, it has been applied to protesters regardless of their racial and political views. In fact, in April 2018, Georgia police invoked the Anti-Mask Act to arrest several individuals who were counter-protesting against neo-Nazi and other racist demonstrators. Once again, the law does not—and cannot—discriminate based on the political views of the speaker. Indeed, one issue that frequently arises with peaceful protests is the presence of counter-demonstrators who oppose the protesters’ message. Of course, the First Amendment rights protect everyone’s right to assemble and freedom of speech equally. But keep in mind that no matter how offensive you might view a protester’s view, you do not have a legal right to physically disrupt someone else’s protest. That said, you are free to organize and participate in a counter-demonstration consistent with local time, place and manner restrictions. If you believe your rights have been violated, reach out to a reputable civil rights attorney. For more information on this area of law, see our civil rights overview.
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