This session a bill was introduced that would allow the government to hold demonstrators liable for all costs related to an “unlawful assembly”. Demonstrators could be forced to pay for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, just for participating in what has been deemed an “unlawful assembly”.
The ACLU-MN believes this is unconstitutional and will have an incredibly chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Free speech is not reserved for those who can afford to pay any costs associated with it. Freedom of speech is for everyone, and it is unjust to expect the average Minnesotan to pay tens of thousands of dollars when exercising this right.
Imagine if every time throughout history that the government decided a protest was unlawful they also billed demonstrators for it. Demonstrators had already put their bodies on the line and risked facing arrest for advancing important social justice issues. They should not be expected to pay for exercising their rights as well.
Demonstrators cannot control how the police respond to their demonstration, so they should not be expected to pay for it. In many demonstrations, such as at the Mall of America, or the 4th precinct law enforcement deployed scores and scores of police officers. Their reaction was over the top and unnecessary. Demonstrators should not be expected to pay for the overzealous law enforcement reaction.
Passing this bill would be a waste of time and resources because the court would likely strike down this law as unconstitutional.
Also, we doubt it is a coincidence that this bill came up after a series of demonstrations by Black Lives Matter, as opposed to another group. Black Lives Matters' demonstrations made many Minnesotans uncomfortable, by inconveniencing their lives and by forcing them to confront the pervasive racism in our state.
The author of the bill, Representative Zerwas, claimed that this bill is reasonable, and gave an example of people being billed for any costs associated with a forest fire they started. Freedom of Speech is in the first amendment to the Constitution. There is no right to start a forest fire, without the expectation that you can be held responsible. That argument doesn’t apply to freedom of speech.
Minnesota lawmakers shouldn't even give this bill a hearing, it doesn’t even merit a discussion.