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Americans for Prosperity’s sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), cosigned a letter along with National Coalition Against Censorship, Freedom Forum, PEN America, and others asking public officials across the country to reaffirm their commitment to First Amendment rights, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How we exercise First Amendment rights may change for a time to protect fellow citizens, but government should not be imposing blanket bans on the exercise of constitutional freedoms.
The right to protest can coexist with the interest of government to ensure public safety, the letter explains. Most protesters during the coronavirus outbreak have been peaceful and mindful of the health of their fellow citizens.
Upholding First Amendment rights need not be at odds with the government’s authority and obligation to protect public health and safety. The emergency decrees that call for social distancing, wearing of face covers or masks, and limits on the size of public assemblies can regulate the manner in which protests occur. However, regulations should be narrowly tailored to what is necessary to protect public health and cannot be so broad that they ban protest completely or so poorly drafted that they restrict peaceful demonstrations.
Most protesters have been exercising their constitutional rights without threatening the health of their fellow citizens.
Public officials in Ohio and Michigan have included explicit protections for First Amendment rights in their emergency decrees. Some states have also acknowledged information-gathering and reporting as “essential services.”
The letter concludes with a call to public officials, urging them to recognize their obligation to defend the First Amendment rights of Americans while they work to protect public safety. And it’s a critical reminder. Some authoritarian governments are using the coronavirus pandemic to clamp down on free expression.
As governments across the world enact emergency measures to keep people at home and stave off the pandemic, some are unhappy about having their missteps publicized. Others are taking advantage of the crisis to silence critics and tighten control.
“COVID-19 poses significant threats to government and regime security as it has the potential to expose poor governance and lack of transparency on issues that affect every citizen in a given country,” said Aim Sinpeng, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Sydney.
In Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power for 35 years, human rights group LICADHO has documented 24 cases of people being detained for sharing information about the coronavirus.
AFPF partners with other civil liberty organizations to protect the ability of all Americans to engage with each other and drive progress on issues of shared concern. Our work includes raising awareness of citizens’ ability to access public records and open meetings, researching how government agencies are retaining employee communications in a digital age, and more.
Read the full letter here.