CA SB 742 Attacks Free Speech and the Right to Assemble
by Children’s Health Defense California Chapter Team
The latest vaccination clinic bill attacking free speech and the right to assemble is getting a hearing. Act now to protect these constitutional rights!
Senator Pan’s California bill, SB 742, which criminalizes protests near vaccine clinics, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee this Thursday, August 26, 2021. It has been amended since we last reviewed it, but it didn’t get any better.
Free Speech is a Right
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791 as part of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. The intent was to prevent the government from making laws which prohibit the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. Nevertheless, this bill tries to do just that. In its amended form, this bill creates a 30 foot buffer around anyone entering or exiting a place that offers vaccination of any kind. In this zone, your speech will be limited and your right to assemble non-existent.
Education is not harassment
This bill seeks to stop a lot more than violent protests. Within the 30 feet buffer zone, many activities would not be allowed, including “harassing” people. On the surface, that seems reasonable, but this bill also redefines “harass” as “the nonconsensual and knowing approach within 30 feet of another person or occupied vehicle for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area. (emphasis added)” The wording is confusing, but the effect is chilling. It means that a person giving away copies of the package insert for a vaccine would be in violation of the law.
The punishment is harsh
If the bill passes, violators will be subject to a penalty of $1,000 and/or jail time for up to six months. That’s pretty strong for quietly offering information to people as they walk down the street.
Legal precedent does not support this bill
According to the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), abortion clinic protestors are protected. FACE protects the right of citizens to protest abortions as long as they don’t use “force or threat of force or by physical obstruction”. Nowhere does it include actions like passing leaflets or educating people as banned actions. In fact, the Act specifically states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed … to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution”.
This new bill aims to make that same “expressive conduct” illegal, if the conduct is at a vaccination location instead of an abortion clinic. The effect is a precedent that will allow specific protests to be labeled illegal while others are protected, based on what is being protested. This sounds a lot like the government telling us what we are allowed to object to.
To date, almost no protests about vaccines have been violent. The only one that had any violence was in Los Angeles, and the violence came from Antifa protesters, not the Medical Freedom activists. This bill does nothing to stop groups such as Antifa or any of the other groups whose protests have turned violent over the last few years.
Rush to judgment
Possibly the scariest part of this bill is that it is being pushed forward under an “urgency clause.” Urgency statutes go into effect as soon as a 2/3 majority is recorded in both the Senate and Assembly. Section 3 of this bill reads:
This act is an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the California Constitution and shall go into immediate effect. The facts constituting the necessity are:
In order to ensure public peace and safety during the process of distributing vaccinations during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis, it is necessary for this measure to go into immediate effect.
Since Article IV doesn’t actually give any more detail about what authorizes an urgency statute, and protesters are not endangering the “public peace and safety,” there is no clear reason to push this forward in a way that requires only a 2/3 majority vote and not the governor’s signature.
Need some talking points?
As you talk with others, including legislators and law enforcement, here are some things to share:
- Free Speech is protected by the First Amendment. That means telling us we can’t talk about vaccines is unconstitutional.
- The Right to Assemble is protected by the First Amendment. Any attempt to stop people from getting together, such as telling us we can’t approach each other, is unconstitutional.
- Education is not harassment. By redefining “harass” to include “educate,” this bill sets a dangerous precedent.
- Handing out fliers is not violence. To date there have been far more violent protest activities perpetrated by other groups which are not targeted by this bill.
The time is now to register your objection to SB 742.
- Leave a comment on legiscan.com. Comments have not been posted from the meeting, so to put it on record, put it on there now.
- Contact your Senator and Assemblymember
- Call or email as many Assemblymembers on the Appropriations committee as you can:
The Assembly Appropriations Committee
Lorena Gonzalez (Chair) D
Frank Bigelow (Vice Chair) R
Isaac G. Bryan D
Lisa Calderon D
Wendy Carrillo D
Ed Chau D
Megan Dahle R
Laurie Davies R
Vince Fong R
Jesse Gabriel D
Eduardo Garcia D
Marc Levine D
Bill Quirk D
Robert Rivas D
Akilah Weber, M.D. D
Updated on August 23, 2021, to reflect the newest hearing date and time.
Updated on August 26, 2021, to reflect the current status.