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Professor Tabatha Abu El-Haj Tallies Threats to Free Speech in Slate Op-Ed

Tabatha Abu El-Haj

August 01, 2016

Protesters on all sides saw their First Amendment rights curtailed during the Republican National Convention, Professor Tabatha Abu El-Haj said in an essay published in Slate on July 15.

“Protesters in Cleveland will have to navigate a convoluted set of temporary regulations and may well encounter challenges from multiple law enforcement agencies,” Abu El-Haj said, observing that city officials planned to manage the event according to best practices devised after 9/11.

An ACLU victory in its lawsuit against Cleveland’s original plan to restrict protesters’ movements during the convention produced limited improvements, leaving activists unable to see or directly interact with delegates, Abu El-Haj said.

The restrictions are not unique to Cleveland, she said, noting that First Amendment rights of those seeking to gather in public for political reasons are limited everywhere.

“The founders were proven wrong about a great many things, but they understood that sometimes people are too angry to express themselves eloquently or even verbally. So, they included the First Amendment’s guarantee of a right to peaceably assemble in order to create a political safety valve,” she wrote. “Citizens would be free to express their collective dissatisfaction—to shout, stomp their feet, and throw tea into the Boston Harbor—so that the political establishment could take heed and correct course before it was too late.”

Abu El-Haj is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the right of assembly.