Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider
After New York City police evicted Occupy protesters from Zuccotti Park this morning, the protesters ran to a judge to argue that their First Amendment rights had been violated.And one judge, at least, has initially agreed with them.
But the protesters’ First Amendment Rights have not been violated.
Here’s the relevant clause in the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The “right to peaceably assemble” does not mean “the right to camp in parks.” This seems especially true when, as in this case, the park is privately owned.
A reasonable reading of the relevant First Amendment clause suggests that the Founders meant that citizens could gather temporarily to express their views and then disperse again. Not that they could effectively seize ownership of parcels of land that are supposed to be available to all citizens every time they get mad about something.
I should add that I sympathize with the fundamental frustration underlying the Occupy movement. As I explained here in detail, the juxtaposition of near-record-high unemployment and inequality with near-record-high profit margins, is frustrating. And it’s worth calling attention to.
But you can call attention to it without living in parks. And you can call attention to it–and fix it–without calling for the overthrow of capitalism and the provision of everything for free, which some of the protesters occasionally do. And although it’s not popular to say so, Wall Street did not, actually, “steal” trillions of dollars from “the people” in the boom years. The reason so few bankers have been sent to jail is that what the vast majority of what the bankers did was (and still is) legal. So it seems to me, anyway, that the protesters might want to focus more of their attention on the folks in Washington.
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